Acting Our Faith (Luke 10:25-37)

  • I don't have to remind you that our world is a world of hurt
  • thirty-five thousand children die every day of starvation and diseases caused by malnutrition
  • and there's 1 billion 400 million people who just live at the subsistence level with regard to food, clothing and shelter
  • there's 100 million street children under the age of 15 in our large cities around the world
  • and the heartbreaking statistics go on and on

  • tragically, many followers of Christ are somewhat hardened to the suffering in this world
  • there are many reasons
  • ONE IS TWISTED THEOLOGY
  • there is this fallacy that God is concerned only with the soul, and that to minister to someone's body is, frankly, a waste of time
  • there's also a mistaken belief that the world has to get worse before the Lord can come, so anyone who tries to make the world a better place is actually delaying the return of our Lord Jesus Christ
  • ridiculous, isn't it?
  • "Do you realize," a student asked a lecturer on this subject, "if we start feeding hungry people, things won't get worse, and if things don't get worse, Jesus won't come?"
  • this almost makes God into a cosmic absentee landlord, distantly ignoring this earth until it's so bad, that he returns and sets things right
  • and it's a bad view

  • there's another reason why Christ followers are hardened to social justice
  • IT'S A REACTION TO THE SOCIAL GOSPEL MOVEMENT
  • there was a time, and maybe there still is, when so-called Christians abandoned the spiritual essence of the Scripture and became totally focused on promoting justice in the world
  • they went too far the other way, and in trying to redeem people's suffering around the world, completely ignored the soul
  • not to mention other controversial actions such as arming rebels to overthrow oppressive governments
  • many churches, such as the one in which I was raised, reacted by condemning almost any sort of social action
  • our job, they said, was to save the soul
  • let someone else worry about their bodies, their housing, their food

  • BUT MAYBE THE MOST POTENT REASON IS COMPASSION FATIGUE
  • do you ever watch television and see an ad from a humanitarian agency?
  • sometimes I feel like crying out, "I can't handle more suffering! I can't take another picture of a starving soul!"
  • we're overloaded with images of the suffering that is so present in this world

  • the end result is, as one author writes, that Christians are like those living in a castle
  • who occasionally venture into enemy territory to make evangelistic raids
  • but most of the time retreat to our fortress over the moat, raise the drawbridge, and enjoy the splendid fellowship of Christian brother and sister, but do nothing to redeem this earth

  • my premise this morning is simple
  • OUR LOVE FOR GOD WILL SHOW ITSELF IN OUR SOCIAL ACTION
  • in other words, if you love God, it's going to show in how you treat others who are suffering or in need
  • no compassion? Then no faith!
  • but if you and I have a genuine love for God and a faith, it is going to show in how we treat the poor and oppressed

  • please open your Bibles this morning to Luke 10
  • 25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
  • 26 "What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?"
  • 27 He answered: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind' ; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"
  • 28 "You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live."
  • 29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"
  • 30 In reply Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.
  • 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.
  • 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
  • 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.
  • 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him.
  • 35 The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.'
  • 36 "Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?"
  • 37 The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him." Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."

  • Jesus told his most memorable parable in a way that pushes this point home
  • a Jewish traveler who's traveling inside Jewish territory and he gets robbed and beaten and left half dead alongside of a well traveled road
  • but as bad as all that is, good news is coming down the road
  • there's a religious leader just a half-mile away, and behind him is a staff member of a local place of worship
  • so help is on the way for this beaten up traveler, right?
  • I mean, if you could arrange the traffic that you would want to come down this road, given this man's condition, you'd arrange it just like this: two religious leaders on the road, on the way, about ready to come across this man

  • but as Jesus tells the story, there's a twist in the plot, because the religious leader sees the beaten up countryman, and for whatever reason, we don't know for sure, he doesn't even break stride
  • yeah, he veers five degrees to pass on the far shoulder of the road, but he doesn't even break stride.
  • no reason to panic, you know, this other guy's coming too, and he's a religious leader
  • he does the same thing-makes the five degree adjustment and doesn't break stride, and he passes as well
  • well, now, all bets are off, right?

  • and then Jesus says there's one more guy approaching, but in horse racing parlance, he is a long shot
  • he's just a business guy, regular guy, business guy on his way to a meeting that he cannot miss
  • and the second wrinkle in this thing is he's from an ethnic group that hates Jews and that Jews hate.
  • so given what the first two leaders did with respect to this wounded countryman, what are the odds that this business guy is going to stop and do anything for this Jewish wounded man?

  • Jesus completes this story by saying that this Samaritan man felt something in his heart
  • he felt compassion in his heart
  • then he came to some conclusions in his head, and then he did some things with his hands
  • you know the story.
  • he felt compassion, so he stopped and he bound up the wounds
  • he loaded him into his Lexus or Taurus, or whatever the equivalent would be, drove him to the emergency room, then checked him into a hotel and told the guy at the hotel, "Here's my American Express. I'll be back after my business meeting."
  • but he said these words, "You take care of him, whatever it takes. It's on me."
  • Then Jesus turned to his listeners and he said, "I want all of you to be more like this guy. He's the model. He's the one I want you to emulate. Any questions? I want you to have hearts that work like his heart worked in that situation. I want you to have heads or minds that work like his mind worked that day. I want you to have hands that know how to get dirty and bloody from time-to-time in the bandaging up of wounded, hurting folks. What part of this challenge did I not make clear? Be like this guy."

  • two observations about this passage
  • RELIGIOUS PEOPLE DO NOT ALWAYS PRACTICE THEIR FAITH
  • I'm trying to figure out how the first two religious leaders in Jesus' famous parable, how could they see such an obvious need and have such cold hearts and such cloudy minds?
  • how could they keep their hands in their pockets?
  • and then, how could a long shot business guy, a Samaritan, be so responsive?

  • you know, it is quite possible to be very religious and yet devoid of even normal levels of human compassion
  • it's very possible for some people to "do" religion for reasons that have very little to do with being transformed and motivated by the love of Jesus Christ
  • some people "do" religion for self-righteous reasons. It's just a self-improvement plan-no compassion or grace associated with it
  • some people "do" religion for power and control reasons
  • it makes them feel big and strong
  • some people "do" it for guilt and shame reasons.
  • there are a lot of reasons why people "do" religion

  • but Jesus is simply pulling back the veil on this nasty little secret that goes virtually undiscussed in religious circles
  • the secret is that much that goes on in the name of Jesus Christ that day and these days has very little to do with Him at all
  • much that goes on in churches around the world even today has very little to do with being moved and personally melted by the tender love and forgiving grace of Jesus Christ

  • the point that Jesus is really making is that for a human heart to be deeply touched by human suffering of some kind, it must first be opened up and filled up by the love of Jesus Christ
  • it's a deeply personal and necessary transforming experience that must happen
  • which is why the Bible says in 1 John 4:19, "We love because He first loved us."
  • we can touch the lives of people who are suffering because in a way our sin suffering lives have been touched by Jesus Christ first

  • historically, believers have done much in social action
  • Christ followers were active in establishing hospitals and health care institutions
  • Christians developed our current educational system in which kids everywhere spend the first years of their life being educated instead of working
  • Christians such as Wilberforce were instrumental in abolishing slavery
  • the facts are well documented

  • but Christians have also failed miserably
  • exhibit number one: the racism that churches implicitly supported, when they could have been the first and most vocal proponents of abolishing segregation and racism
  • still they call 11 o'clock on Sunday mornings the most segregated hour in North America

  • Christians should be at the forefront of social action, but they often aren't
  • but there's another observation I'd like to make

  • CARING MEANS ACTION
  • caring isn't a state of mind, it is an action
  • a homeless woman once approached a country vicar for help
  • because he was busy and helpless, he turned her away and offered to pray for her
  • the homeless woman later wrote this poem:

I was hungry,
and you formed a humanities group to discuss my hunger.
I was imprisoned,
and you crept off quietly to my chapel and prayed for my release.
I was naked, and in your mind you debated the morality of my appearance.
I was sick,
and you knelt and thanked God for your health.
I was homeless,
and you preached to me the spiritual shelter of the love of God.
I was lonely,
and you left me alone to pray for me.
You seem so holy, so close to God
but I am still very hungry - and lonely - and cold.

  • the apostle James wrote:
  • (James 2:14) What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?
  • (James 2:15) Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.
  • (James 2:16) If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?
  • (James 2:17) In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

  • last week a spiritual giant died
  • his name was Henri Nouwen
  • he was one of the brilliant theological minds of our generation, a tenured professor at Yale
  • but listen to what he said at the height of his success
  • "I felt I needed something else because my spiritual life was not deep. I'm just a fragile person, and I knew that I wasn't rooted deeply enough in Christ. I wanted something more"
  • so this brilliant theological mind closed shop and moved to a small community in Richmond Hill, Ontario, and became a pastor to a group of mentally disabled kids
  • many people thought he was throwing his life away, caring for the most basic needs such as changing diapers of disabled kids, but Nouwen knew where he belonged
  • and he staid there until he died of a heart attack last weekend at age 65
  • (Matthew 25:40) "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

  • how can you get involved?
  • I challenge you at an individual level - what is there that you can do to serve those in need?
  • is there anyone who could see themselves visiting those in prisons?
  • what about visiting the elderly in nursing homes, who seldom have any visitors?
  • what about giving some money to a charity?
  • becoming a volunteer with an organization like TeleCare Etobicoke, or a board member with the Stonegate Community Ministry?
  • what about becoming a Big Brother or a Big Sister?
  • there's lots we can do

  • on a bigger scale, what can we do as a church?
  • what can we do to correct more systemic problems in society?
  • you know that we can give charity, but unless we solve the underlying problems, it won't do much good
  • what can we do to solve the systemic problems?

  • Mother Teresa ever since 1948, when she started caring for the poorest of the poor in a place that Kipling called, "The Big Calcutta Stink."
  • she started out by picking up one dying woman off the streets, where she had been half eaten by rats and ants, and took her to a hospital and refused to budge until somebody treated her
  • then she talked the city in giving her space in a former Hindu temple where she could take the destitute and the dying
  • since then, tens of thousands have been rescued off the streets. She has started facilities for lepers and orphans and AIDS victims, and they've spread around the globe, from Kenya to Ethiopia to Peru to Mexico to New York City.

  • this morning I'd like to pray part of a prayer that Mother Teresa prays each morning with her coworkers:
  • "Lord, make me a channel of Your peace, that where there is hatred, I may bring love; that where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness; that where there is discord, I may bring harmony; that where there is error, I may bring truth; that where there is doubt, I may bring faith; that where there is despair, I may bring hope; that where there are shadows, I may bring light; that where there is sadness, I may bring joy. In Jesus' name, amen.
Posted on September 29, 1996 and filed under Uncategorized.

Recovering our Saltiness (Matthew 5:13-16)

  • executives over at Sears were facing a marketing challenge
  • plenty of women were shopping at Sears for stuff like hardware and tools and plumbing fixtures, but the women were avoiding the women's department
  • Sears executives were convinced that if women only knew about the new line of clothing they had for sale, that they would become customers of that department too
  • but how could they promote the clothing in such a way that it would connect with these customers?
  • marketing experts studied the situation, and they hammered out a marketing strategy
  • they developed an advertising campaign called "Come see the softer side of Sears"
  • they developed a two page magazine ad
  • one side of the page showed an automotive battery
  • the other side showed a woman wearing a very dramatic evening dress
  • the headline quotes the woman as saying "I came in for a Die Hard, and left with something Drop Dead"
  • Sears analyzed all the demographic information, placed the ad in particular publications, and then looked at the viewing habits of women in the age they wanted to reach
  • they decided to place 30 and 60 second TV commercials on the annual Emmy award show, as a very high female viewership
  • in all, Sears spent $40 million U.S. on this marketing campaign
  • it's working
  • sales of women's apparel at Sears has gone up

  • okay, so why am I giving Sears a free 60 second commercial?
  • this is not part of their $40 marketing plan
  • the reason I've been doing it is of a passage of Scripture
  • when Jesus walked this earth, he taught that citizenship in God's kingdom is open to anybody who sincerely seeks it
  • this was an incredible message to people
  • what he was saying is the very individuals who thought there was no way they could be good enough to enter into heaven, that they could get in not on the basis of their goodness, but on the basis of his goodness
  • Jesus wanted that life-changing message to be communicated far beyond the side of that hill by the town of Capernaum 2,000 years ago
  • he wanted people all over the globe to find out about it
  • because surely when people find out that God has flung open the doors of his kingdom, they're going to respond in droves
  • so he needed, to put it crassly, a marketing strategy
  • how is he going to have his message communicated?

  • here are the words Jesus used to describe his strategy in Matthew 5
  • Mat 5:13 "You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.
  • Mat 5:14 "You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.
  • Mat 5:15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.
  • Mat 5:16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
  • what he was saying to that crowd, and to us today, is you are my marketing plan -- you're it
  • I'm not going to buy ads in the Toronto Star or Macleans Magazine or on the television or even in the Yellow Pages
  • because my Plan A is you, and I don't have a Plan B
  • the way I want you to market my message to your families and neighborhoods is for you to be salt and light: that's my strategy
  • you're thinking, what is salt and light? that doesn't sound like a very powerful strategy for reaching the world!
  • Jesus is using it as a metaphor
  • one thing both salt and light have is a radical influence, a dramatic influence on whatever they come in contact with
  • think about salt for a moment
  • what does salt do?
  • salt makes people thirsty, it spices things up, it's a preservative, it enhances flavor
  • He says, live the kind of life that is going to make people thirst for the truth about God
  • the kind of life that will spice things up by stimulating people to think about me
  • the kind of life that will retard the rate of moral decay in society
  • the kind of life that shows people that following me will enhance their life, not detract from it
  • and then think about light
  • it illuminates, it exposes, it draws people towards something, like those search lights that promoters use
  • Jesus was saying, live the kind of life that will illuminate the truth for people
  • that will shine the light of my compassion to the dark places where there is despair
  • and live the kind of life that will attract people to me, because ultimately, he said, I am the light of life
  • this is an incredible vote of confidence that Jesus gives to me and to you
  • to say that we are going to be the main purveyors and communicators of God's message to the entire globe
  • what an incredible responsibility
  • so how do we proceed?
  • what exactly in 20th century terms does it mean to be salt and light?
  • while Jesus used it as a very positive metaphor, they can also have very negative connotations too
  • think about it
  • if you put salt in a wound, it stings
  • if you put too much salt on food, it makes you want to spit it out
  • if you get too much salt in your diet you get high blood pressure
  • salt isn't altogether good
  • and the glare of the light that is much too bright and shines right on your eyes makes you recoil
  • the problem is that some kingdom citizens, even though they might have good intentions, are inadvertently repelling people from Christianity instead of attracting them
  • listen to what one person wrote
  • he said "The best argument for Christianity is Christians -- their joy, their certainty, their completeness. But the strongest argument against Christianity is also Christians, when they are somber and joyless, when they are self-righteous and smug, when they are narrow and repressive, then Christianity dies a thousand deaths."
  • isn't that true? I've found it to be true
  • there are things that Christians do that would make anybody want nothing to do with being a Christian
  • and there are others who do things who have a mysterious way of drawing people to God

  • if you want some adventure in your Christian life, if you want to make a difference in eternity, there are some things you can do to be salt and light in the community
  • but Jesus is also clear that there is a real possibility that Christians can lose their saltiness or influence
  • he says, "But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men."
  • I've been thinking of some ways that we lose our influence for God
  • the church ceases to be a powerful witness for Christ
  • let me describe some things I've been thinking about, and ask yourselves which ones might apply to you or this church

  • THE FIRST IS A LACK OF A CHRISTLIKE VISION
  • listen to what one author writes:
    • "I backed the car out of the driveway as I do every morning at 5:45. I switched the radio from a program on ethics to the Tokyo stock closing. While I drove through the neighboring subdivision, I mentally critiqued architectural design. I bought coffee at the twenty-four hour coffee shop and successfully avoided the talkative cashier. As I turned into [work], I formulated a convincing defense for a...plan I hoped the staff would adopt. I climbed to my third-floor office, wondering about the productivity of the nighttime maintenance crew. I shuffled through a mountain of mail on my desk and wished someone else would answer it..."
  • now listen to this:
    • I spun around my chair and looked out the window...In that quiet moment I saw the previous quarter hour for what it had been - an hour tainted by purely human perspective. Not once during that hour had I seen the world through godly eyes. I had been more interested in international finances than in the moral demise of our nation. I had thought more about houses than the people inside them. I had considered the tasks awaiting me more important than the woman who served my coffee. I had been more intent on logically supporting my plans than sincerely seeking God's. I'd thought more about staff members' productivity than their walk with the Lord or their family life. I'd viewed correspondence as a drudgery rather than a way to offer encouragement, counsel, or help.
    • It was 6:00 a.m. and I needed a renewed heart and mind
  • have you had this experience?
  • so often we go through our days seeing the world through human eyes, never thinking of Christ's perspective

  • listen to Luke 19:41
  • (Luke 19:41) As he [Jesus] approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it
  • Jesus was seeing Jerusalem from a divine perspective
  • in another passage, Jesus cried,
  • (Matthew 23:37) "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem...how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing."
  • as we see our cities through God's eyes, they look very different
  • but many of us lose our saltiness because we are consumed with a human perspective
  • how about you?

  • WHAT ABOUT FEAR?
  • many Christians are afraid to be bold about their faith, fearing rejection by others
  • they are so timid that they work alongside people for years without anyone knowing that they are followers of Jesus Christ
  • and yet Jesus said:
  • Mat 5:15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.
  • Mat 5:16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
  • (Mark 8:38) If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels."
  • Paul said: (Romans 1:16) I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.

  • THERE'S SOMETHING CALLED DECAFFEINATED CHRISTIANITY
  • Anglican Bishop Michael Marshall suggests that "the problem with contemporary Christianity...is that many people have settled for a facsimile of Christian freedom: running their own lives while at the same time saying they believe in Christ"
  • he further contends that many so-called believers have suggested a "decaffeinated Christianity - it promises not to keep you awake at night"

  • friends, a brand of Christianity that does not cost anything and does not prompt the loss of sleep is unlikely to wake up others to their need to be redeemed as Christ

  • these are the three reasons why many Christians lose their saltiness
  • a lack of Christlike perspective
  • fear or timidity
  • and a costless, decaffeinated Christianity

  • but I also thought of two reasons why churches lose their saltiness

  • THERE'S THE HIRED HAND MENTALITY
  • here is how most churches operate
  • the congregation's job is to show up and to give enough money so that the church can hire a pastor
  • the pastor's job is to do ministry
  • it's like the one pastor who said to his congregation, "I'm paid to be good, but you guys are good for nothing"

  • whoever thought of this arrangement is dead wrong
  • because as a result of hiring someone to do the ministry, churches have been crippled
  • the majority of churches operating under this scheme only have one person in the church engaged in recognized ministry
  • here's how it should work biblically
  • (Ephesians 4:11) It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers,
  • (Ephesians 4:12) to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up
  • in other words, the pastor's job is not to do ministry, it is to prepare you to do ministry
  • how many of you have ministries?
  • there's something wrong if you call yourself a Christian and yet you have no recognizable ministry
  • it's dead wrong
  • and churches are losing their saltiness because of it

  • but there's one more problem with churches
  • AND THAT'S THAT CHURCHES HAVE WALLS
  • if you ask the average person where a church is, they'll point to a building
  • casually we might say to someone, "We're going to church" when we mean we're going to a particular building
  • or we might say "Our church is located at 276 Park Lawn Road"
  • but that introduces a subtle problem

  • friends, this building is not a church
  • our church is not located at 276 Park Lawn Road
  • you are the church

  • you see, something subtle happened when churches began owning buildings
  • instead of the church being God's people sprinkled through a community and acting as God's ambassadors, church began to take place inside walls
  • somebody's called it "the fortress mentality"
  • it's saying to people, "we're not coming to you, so you better come to us"
  • "you have to penetrate our fortress before you can join the church"
  • it's also led to a preoccupation among many with the physical plant
  • many churches are so consumed with paying for and maintaining their buildings that they forget about the mission, which is to reach lost people for Christ

  • friends, this building is not the church
  • you are the church
  • and the church is most effective not when it's sitting in the saltshaker or church building, but when it's sprinkled through the community
  • as we act as God's representatives

  • [CONCLUSION]
  • we're losing our saltiness
  • because of a lack of Christlike perspective
  • fear or timidity
  • and a costless, decaffeinated Christianity
  • because we expect the pastor to do the work
  • because we let the walls of the church hold us in

  • but the church can be a powerful force as we act as salt and light
  • I'm going to lead us in a prayer, that is found in page six of your Adventure Journal:
  • Christ, I'm discovering how much you care about my community. You see the suffering I overlook. You feel righteous anger when evil prevails. You weep over cities that reject your love. Thank you for visiting where I live. Your vision for my community fills me with hope. May your church use its powerful resources to make this a better place. Amen.
Posted on September 22, 1996 and filed under Uncategorized.

The Zacchaeus Factor (Luke 19:1-10)

  • please open your Bibles to Luke 19 this morning
  • as you open your Bibles, I want to commend those of you who have begun the 50-Day Adventure
  • this is Day 8
  • but I also want to extend a word of forgiveness to those stragglers who haven't yet begun
  • you know, it's not too late
  • I hope that you'll pick up an Adventure Journal before you leave this morning
  • and don't begin at Day 1, pick it up and Day 8
  • and if anyone missed a day last week, I extend forgiveness to you as well
  • we ask that you put a bit more money in the offering plate this morning as you leave, but beyond that you're completely forgiven
  • let's read the passage of Scripture this morning
  • 19:1 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through.
  • 2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy.
  • 3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd.
  • 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
  • 5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today."
  • 6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
  • 7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, "He has gone to be the guest of a 'sinner.'"
  • 8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, "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."
  • 9 Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.
  • 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost."
  • many Christians can be represented by the people mentioned in verse 7
  • 7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, "He has gone to be the guest of a 'sinner.'"
  • the word mutter in this verse is similar to the one used of the Israelites when they complained about being in the desert after the Exodus
  • to borrow a phrase from David Ring or Bill Hackett, they were bellyaching that Jesus had the audacity to hang around a sinner
  • not only was Jesus hanging around a sinner, but he was hanging around a sinner with a really bad reputation
  • we read in verse 2 that Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector, which means that he stood at the top of the collection pyramid
  • I bet you didn't know they had pyramid schemes back then, but this was the ultimate: everyone had to pay taxes, and tax collectors could charge a commission for collecting taxes, and here Zacchaeus is taking a cut of the commission from everyone under him
  • no wonder he is a wealthy man, even though many consider his wealth ill-gotten
  • so disliked were tax collectors that in some ancient documents they were put on the same list as murderers and robbers
  • so here is Jesus befriending an out and out sinner
  • and it wasn't the first time
  • in fact, Jesus called a tax collector to be one of his twelve disciples
  • he was known to associate with immoral women
  • so bad was his reputation that people said of Jesus, "'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and 'sinners.'" (Luke 7:34)
  • how many sinners do you have as friends this morning?
  • some Christians mistakenly assume that it's wrong to build relationships with sinners
  • and many of their reasons come from the Bible
  • BIBLICAL ISSUES
  • James 4:4 You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.
  • but it's clear from other passages such as 1 John 2:15-17, that the "world" is not referring to the people themselves, but the sin and evil that people in the world commit
  • in other words, we have to follow Christ's command to love others without falling into the trap of loving the sins they commit
  • James 1:27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this...to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
  • John 17:14 they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.
  • but, we must read on:
  • John 17:15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one...
  • John 17:18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.
  • 2 Corinthians 6:17 "Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you."
  • Paul here is talking about situations where believers are "yoked" with unbelievers
  • this does not refer to everyday friendships, but to more formal alliances
  • in fact, Paul said in an earlier letter that interaction with non-Christians is all right and even necessary
  • 1 Corinthians 5:9 I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people--
  • 1 Corinthians 5:10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world.
  • SPIRITUAL DANGER
  • 1 Corinthians 15:33 Do not be misled: "Bad company corrupts good character."
  • first, the context of the verse is warning against accepting religious teachers who deny the resurrection of Christ
  • but there is a good point raised in this verse
  • namely, when we associate with someone who believes something other than the true gospel message, we need to be certain we're the one whose influence is prevailing
  • for instance, take an office party, or going out after work
  • if you come home with a bit too much alcohol on your breath, and a headache the next day, it's time to back away, at least for a while
  • because you're not influencing your friends, they're influencing you
  • but if we build friendships with a purpose -- to contiguously influence people for Christ -- we'll be more likely to persevere in upholding what is morally right and true
  • RISKING YOUR REPUTATION
  • "If I start spending personal time in public places with pagans, what will the people in my church think?"
  • that's a valid concern, because people in the church probably will misunderstand some of your efforts to relate to irreligious people
  • but you're in good company, because Jesus not only risked his reputation, he ruined it!
  • Luke 7:34 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and "sinners."'
  • Matthew 9:10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew's house, many tax collectors and "sinners" came and ate with him and his disciples.
  • Matthew 9:11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and 'sinners'?"
  • Matthew 9:12 On hearing this, Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.
  • Matthew 9:13 But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."
  • PERSONAL DISCOMFORT
  • imagine going to a restaurant after church today
  • you see friends at two tables, and both of them want you to join them
  • one is a group of people from the church that you know and like
  • at the other table, is a friend from work
  • you see them smoking and drinking and laughing just a little too loud
  • and you know there might be an off color joke or two
  • which table do you sit at?
  • now, God doesn't call us to go back into the environment we used to be in, but he calls us to visit it
  • and to build bridges
  • not all unbelievers are like this, but there let's face the fact that it's a lot easier to be around people who agree with us in matters of faith than to be around those with different lifestyles and different beliefs
  • but friends, we have to do it
  • in Luke 19:10, Jesus tells us his life mission
  • 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost."
  • friends, that's our mission too
  • what good is a hospital that won't accept sick patients?
  • what good is church that won't welcome sinners?
  • what good is salt if it loses its saltiness?
  • what good is a Christian who doesn't have any unbelieving friends with whom they can share God's love?
  • there is a man who was in President Nixon's administration in the United States
  • Time magazine described him as "tough, wily, nasty, and tenaciously loyal to Richard Nixon"
  • he was known as the White House "hatchet man" and ex-Marine Captain, a man who supposedly once boasted that he would run over his own grandmother to reelect the President
  • his name was Charles Colson
  • one night he talked to a business friend, Tom Phillips, and said, "Uh-Brainerd tells me that you have become very involved in some religious activities"
  • and his friend replied:
  • "Yes, that's true, Chuck. I have accepted Jesus Christ. I have committed my life to Him and it has been the most marvelous experience of my whole life"
  • it sounds as if Philips had given some thought as to what he would say
  • later on, Colson and felt drawn to visit this man at his home
  • during the evening, Philips turned the conversation to spiritual matters, gave his testimony, and a book by C.S. Lewis called Mere Christianity
  • a short time later, after reading that book, one Friday morning he prayed, "Lord Jesus, I believe you. I accept you. Please come into my life. I commit to you."
  • and he wrote to Tom Phillips, telling him of the step that he had taken
  • Colson wrote a book about his experience called Born Again
  • a young man in prison in the Philippines was given a copy of this book by his mother
  • and he gave his life to the Lord
  • his name was Benigno Aquino, thrown into prison by Marcos
  • the same man who was assassinated, and whose wife became president of the Philippines
  • thousands across the world have given their life to Christ as a result of Colson's ministry, but it all began with the simple witness of a man named Tom Phillips
  • and friends, this morning God can do something tremendous with the witness of a person named you
  • I can confidently say that if Jesus were in bodily form in Etobicoke today, he would be busy befriending sinners
  • and that's his call to us this morning
  • to reach out to someone like Zacchaeus in your life
  • I'm going to suggest a tool that can be used to befriend and impact those around us who might not be believers
  • for those of you with Adventure Journals, it is found on pages 8 and 9
  • it's called the "Missing LINK Game"
  • it is designed to help us follow the example of Jesus, who as he visited communities in Judea, Samaria, and Galilee, befriended all kinds of people
  • he wants us to reach out as well
  • we can be the missing link between Jesus and the people in our community who have not yet had the privilege of meeting Him
  • the letters in LINK spell out what we're to do to reach out to others
  • L stands for List - List the people Jesus might want to befriend through us
  • it could be a neighbor, an employee, your hairdresser
  • list their names prayerfully in the center of the Journal or on a piece of paper that you can place in your Bible
  • I stands of Initiate - Initiate Friendship
  • we all know how to become friends with somebody
  • go out of your way to express Christ's warmth to that person
  • by the way, it has to be genuine
  • people can spot a phony
  • and you can't stop being their friend if they don't respond to the Gospel
  • but begin to look for ways that you can befriend those around you
  • N stands for Notice - Notice the response
  • often your friendliness will be reciprocated
  • pay attention to the response you receive as they begin to react to your friendliness
  • and K stands for Know - Know what you're going to say when that happens
  • this is one of the most important steps, because we get tongue-tied when the conversation turns to spiritual things
  • we should figure out what we're going to say ahead of time, to try to link our relationship to Christ
  • as we play this LINK game, we can get to the point where we are purposefully meeting people and sharing God's love with them
  • maybe we can invite them to church or share spiritual things with them
  • during the reign of Oliver Cromwell, the British government began to run low on silver for coins
  • Lord Cromwell sent his men on an investigation of the local cathedral to see if they could find any precious metal there
  • after investigating, they reported:
  • "The only silver we could find is the statues of the saints standing in the corners"
  • to which Cromwell replied:
  • "Good! We'll melt down the saints and put them into circulation!"
  • I want to close this morning by asking you to play the missing LINK game with one individual
  • please close your eyes with me
  • now list, if you could, one person that you already know, and this morning you sense God prompting you to develop a friendship with them
  • it could be a neighbor, your hair dresser, a fellow employee
  • but this morning you sense that Jesus wants to befriend that person through you
  • list them in your mind's eye
  • now think of a way you could initiate a friendship with them
  • could you plan to have lunch with them one day?
  • if you know they have a certain hobby, could you connect with them in that hobby?
  • could you just try the old-fashioned route and be friendly to them?
  • purpose to do one thing this week to initiate friendship with them
  • and then later this week, as you carry out your plan to befriend them, notice their response, and know what you're going to say to them
  • prepare to share Christ with them, think of ways you can bring the topic up
  • let's ask God to help us in carrying out this plan in the coming week
Posted on September 15, 1996 and filed under Uncategorized.

The Cost of Following Jesus (Luke 14:25-35)

  • this morning, you're aware, we're beginning a 50-Day Spiritual Adventure called "50 Days for Christ to Visit my Community"
  • and we're beginning by thinking of Christ coming and calling us to be his disciples
  • we're thinking of how much things can change in our communities as Christ calls us to follow in his steps
  • I'm going to challenge you to follow along in the adventure journal, as well as to read In His Steps by Charles Sheldon, if you haven't already
  • my challenge is going to be to commit your life to Christ completely, if you haven't already
  • to give your life to him
  • and this will have a tremendous impact on those we come in contact with
  • but this morning we're going to begin by thinking about the cost of what we're about to do
  • let's pray

  • this month my wife and I are celebrating the fifth anniversary of the purchase of our first house
  • at times we don't know whether to celebrate or to play a dirge
  • since we bought the house, we've renovated the kitchen and the bathroom, re-shingled the roof, replaced the furnace, rebuilt the chimney, on top of regular maintenance
  • and despite all our hard work, and the exorbitant interest rate we've been paying up till now on the mortgage, the value of our home has gone down by about 10 or 15%
  • so I can tell you that our party won't be nearly as fun as Uncle Jed's Hootenanny

  • it's amazing how much better investments look up front
  • I have a friend who lives by the credo, "Buy high, sell low"
  • when stocks or mutual funds are on their way up, he buys
  • and when they begin to wane and lose money, he dumps them

  • why I bring this up is because the Bible warns us against the unscrupulous investment of our lives
  • and not just in bad things, in good things as well
  • even if I lose $20,000 or more in my house, there's always going to be another $20,000, eventually...
  • not so with your life
  • you've only been given one life, and you need to be careful in how you invest it

  • at the height of his popularity, when large crowds were following Jesus, he turned around and said some shocking words:
  • (Luke 14:26) "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters--yes, even his own life--he cannot be my disciple.
  • (Luke 14:27) And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
  • and then he told two stories
  • one about a man who started to build a tower and then ran out of money
  • and another about a king who went to war, but first had to figure out if he had enough military strength to win it
  • and listen to his conclusion:
  • (Luke 14:33) In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.
  • Jesus didn't want blind, na?ve followers who hadn't anticipated the commitment he expects: full and absolute surrender

  • another time, a wealthy young man approached Jesus and asked the classic question: "What must I do to inherit eternal life?"
  • Jesus ultimately gave the man such a demanding answer that the man left dejected, realizing he didn't have the commitment necessary to enter the kingdom of heaven

  • this goes so counter to the way we think and operate
  • it's like catching a big fish and throwing it back in the lake
  • we have seeker sensitive churches today
  • you could almost call Jesus seeker-insensitive at times, turning away large crowds and interested seekers

  • admittedly, following Jesus back then demanded a greater change of lifestyle than today
  • to be a disciple of Jesus meant that you left your livelihood, and became homeless and ridiculed
  • but today the call to us is for a high level of commitment

  • this morning I'm going to ask three questions:
  • now, I'm not a very fancy preacher, so this morning I'm going to ask three questions in terms of the commitment Christ demands:
  • how much?
  • why?
  • and perhaps most importantly, how?

  • SO FIRST, LET'S ASK OURSELVES, HOW MUCH COMMITMENT DOES CHRIST DEMAND FROM HIS FOLLOWERS?
  • about a year ago, I conducted a funeral
  • often the strangest part of conducting a funeral is the ride to the cemetery
  • I ride in the lead car with the funeral conductor
  • I have this theory that most funeral conductors are frustrated preachers, because inevitably I listen to a sermon the entire way to the cemetery
  • this one man theorized that a little religion does one good, but too much commitment to Christ is dangerous and frankly, too much of a good thing
  • how much commitment can Christ realistically expect?

  • let's read what Jesus had to say himself, in Luke 9
  • 57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go."
  • 58 Jesus replied, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head."
  • 59 He said to another man, "Follow me." But the man replied, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father."
  • 60 Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God."
  • 61 Still another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family."
  • 62 Jesus replied, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God."

  • when you read this passage, the commitment that Christ is expecting is unreal
  • in that day, many rabbis would travel as itinerant teachers
  • most had a trade to support themselves, but they depended on the generosity of others for their daily provisions
  • as they traveled throughout Judea and Galilee, these rabbis had disciples, who were being trained to develop into teachers just like them
  • and so when a man came to Jesus and said, "I will follow you wherever you go," what he had in mind would be becoming a disciple
  • Jesus said in effect, "You'll have to be more committed to me than to your possessions and comfort"
  • "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head."

  • does following Christ cost us today in terms of our possessions and comfort?
  • absolutely
  • like the young adult who was on the fast track to advancing her career
  • since becoming a Christian, she's lost a bit of his ruthless edge, become a little less self-promoting, is less willing to step on others, more committed to leading a life that serves God and family
  • in short, less promotable

  • like the young missionaries who had a burden to serve in Japan
  • but were told that the best thing they could do was to wait until they could invest in real estate in Toronto, and that should come before their missionary service
  • and they chose the principle of service ahead of net worth

  • like the family who live more or less paycheck to paycheck
  • and yet are committed to give generously and sacrificially to their local church
  • and as a result, lose that extra buffer that could mean a vacation or a new car

  • in the next case, Jesus calls out to a man, "Follow me!"
  • but he man says, "First I have to bury my father"
  • what we have to realize is that in all likelihood, this man's father was still alive
  • what he was saying is, "Jesus, I'm going to wait to follow you until my father's dead"
  • and Jesus gives the harsh reply, "Let the dead bury the dead"
  • in other words, "One's commitment to the kingdom takes priority even over family commitments"

  • does following Christ today cost us in terms of our families?
  • sometimes
  • in the Jewish culture of Jesus' day, following Christ would likely lead to alienation from your family
  • they would write you off for following this man who claimed to be Messiah
  • in the New Testament it becomes evident that as people began to follow Christ, as mentioned in 1 Corinthians, their spouses would leave them
  • would you follow Christ if it meant the possible loss of those who are dearest to you?

  • and then another one says, "I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family."
  • seemingly a reasonable request, but what does Jesus say?
  • "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God."
  • what kind of commitment does Jesus call for?
  • complete and total commitment, above families, possessions, and comfort
  • a radical commitment that leaves nothing behind

  • 1 Kings 11:4 describes Solomon as he aged as king over Israel
  • two words leap out at me as I read this verse
  • As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been.
  • Solomon's heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God
  • sometimes when I read this verse, I ask myself, "Am I fully devoted to the Lord my God?"
  • what would be written about me?
  • are you fully devoted to the Lord your God?

  • YOU MIGHT ASK, "I KNOW THAT CHRIST DEMANDS FULL COMMITMENT, BUT WHY?
  • in Matthew 6:24, Jesus said, "No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money."
  • loving and hating is a Jewish expression meaning you're going to give preference in the end to one master over another
  • through the centuries, people have said, "I think I can serve two masters at one time"
  • but Jesus says, "It's impossible!"
  • Jesus is saying, I'll be your master
  • but I won't accept a full time position
  • I want all of your loyalty to go to me

  • somebody once asked Jesus what the highest law is
  • Mark 12:30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.'
  • why does he demand an exclusive franchise?
  • because he's arrogant?
  • no, because we're dependent creatures, and He knows we're going to serve someone
  • so he says, focus it exclusively on me, because when you try to serve someone else, you risk great disappointment
  • money is fine
  • Jesus never condemns money
  • but it never satisfies the soul, and it can't bail you out when you die
  • look at Howard Hughes
  • philosophies and ideologies are fine
  • but they come and go
  • look at communism
  • a career is necessary and can be wonderful
  • but when it becomes the driving force in your life, it can shred your family
  • pursuit of pleasure burns brightly for a while, but the cool embers of regret come eventually
  • friends can disappoint, political and religious leaders can fall
  • but Jesus says, I never disappoint
  • it's not out of selfishness, it's because he loves us
  • what are some of the benefits of having Jesus as our master?
  • there are many, let's just talk about 10
    • He always has our ultimate interests at heart; you can't say that about other masters
    • He's not demanding and relentless, he's compassionate and gracious
    • Only God has a supernatural ability to help us and equip us and protect us
    • God's truth leads to wisdom, not enslavement
    • He sets behavioral boundaries for our own good, to prevent us from harm
    • He changes our outlook and attitudes on life so we can make healthier attitudes
    • He gives us a mission that really matters and that has eternal consequences
    • He helps us build community with other human beings; he doesn't tear it down like other human beings
    • He guarantees rewards in this life and the next life
    • When you come to the end of your life, He is the one you should have as your master
  • He satisfies our soul and gives us satisfaction where it really matters
  • this book guarantees that if you give your life to Jesus Christ, he will not fail you

  • when you think of the training that Olympians submit to, when you think of the sacrifices that a soldier endures, why is the call to discipleship and full commitment deemed radical?
  • especially when you consider the way God blesses the one who is fully devoted to Christ

  • BUT PERHAPS THE MOST IMPORTANT QUESTION THIS MORNING IS, HOW?
  • how do I develop this full commitment to Jesus Christ?
  • let me ask you what it is that is keeping you from being fully committed to Christ
  • because whatever it is, you have to relinquish it
  • If you encountered Jesus Christ face to face, is there anything in your life that if he asked you to give up, you would have to say, "Sorry, I can't"
  • an attitude, a possession, a secret sin, a relationship
  • Who would you say is becoming the single greatest influence on your attitudes and behavior?
  • parents? peer group?
  • who is it?
  • whose teachings are beginning to shape you the most?
  • If you were to review your calendar and checkbook for July 1996, the month just coming to an end, what priorities did they reflect?
  • I'm not saying 51% of your time and resources would go to God
  • but is there any meaningful evidence that you're serving God and others
  • If people knew what you gave to God in terms of money and time, would you be embarrassed?
  • When you pray, do you just list things that you want, or do you consistently tell God you're available?
  • Do I have a mindset of trying to placate God, to try to just get by, or do we try to actively please God?
  • If you lost every possession and dollar you had, how shattered would you be?
  • Do you consider yourself to be a representative of Jesus Christ so you live your life in such a way to protect His reputation?
  • Billy Graham said once, "I would rather be struck down dead than to discredit God"
  • Would you say the overall general trend in your life is to have a heart that is growing more compassionate toward people or one that is shrinking and becoming more selfish?

  • you see, whatever it is that is keeping you from full commitment to Christ, you have to relinquish it
  • just like the rich young ruler who loved his riches more than God, Jesus said to him, "Give all your riches to the poor, then you can follow me"

  • listen to this story:
  • "At first I saw God as my observer, my judge, keeping track of everything I did wrong so He knew whether I deserved heaven or hell when I die. He was out there kind of like the president. I recognize his picture when I see it, but I really didn't know him. But later on when I met Christ, it seemed that life was really like a bike ride. But it was a tandem bike, and I noticed that Christ was on the back helping me peddle. I don't know when it was that he asked me to change places, but my life has not been the same since. When I had control, I knew that way. It was kind of boring but predictable. It was the shortest distance between two points. But when he took the lead, he knew delightful long cuts, through mountains and rocky places at breakneck speeds. It was all I could do to hang on! And even though it looked like madness, he said, 'Peddle! Peddle!' I worried and was anxious and said, 'Where are you taking me?' He laughed and didn't answer, and I learned to trust. I forgot my boring life and I entered into the adventure."

  • "I am a disciple of Christ. I won't look back, slow down, back away, or be still. My past is redeemed, by present makes sense, my future is secure. I am finished with low living, sight walking, small thinking, colorless dreams, tame visions, mundane talk, chincy giving and dwarfed goals. I no longer need pre-eminence, prosperity, position, promotions, or popularity. I don't have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, regarded, or rewarded. My face is set, my goal is heaven. My road is narrow, my way is rough. But my Guide is reliable and my mission is clear. I cannot be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, deluded, or delayed. I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of adversity, associate at the table of the enemy, or meander in the maze of mediocrity. I won't give up, let up, or shut up till I've preached up, paid up, stored up and staid up for the cause of Christ. I'm a disciple of Christ. I must go until He comes, give till I drop, preach till all know and work till he stops. And when He comes to claim His own, He will have no problem recognizing me, because my colors are clear."
Posted on September 8, 1996 and filed under Uncategorized.