Michael Yaconelli articulates this powerful story in his book, Messy Spirituality—God’s Annoying Love for Imperfect People. Chronicled during World War II, he recounts the actions of a group of soldiers and one old priest in the rural countryside of France:
“During an intense battle, one of the American soldiers was killed. His comrades did not want to leave his body on the battlefield and decided to give him a Christian burial. They remembered a church a few miles behind the front lines whose grounds included a small cemetery surrounded by a white fence. After receiving permission to take their friend’s body to the cemetery, they set out for the church arriving just before sunset.
“A priest, his bent-over back and frail body betraying his many years, responded to their knocking. His face, deeply wrinkled and tan, was the home to fierce eyes that flashed wisdom and passion. Our friend was killed in battle,’ they blurted out, ‘and we wanted to give him a church burial.’
“Apparently the priest understood what they were asking, although he spoke in very broken English. ‘I’m sorry,’ he said, ‘but we can only bury those of the same faith here.’ Weary after many months of war, the soldiers simply turned to walk away. ‘But,’ the old priest called after them, ‘you can bury him outside the fence.’
“Cynical and exhausted, the soldiers dug a grave and buried their friend just outside the white fence. They finished after nightfall. They next morning, the entire unit was ordered to move on, and the group raced back to the little church for one final good-bye to their friend. When they arrived, they couldn’t find the gravesite. Tired and confused, they knocked on the door of the church. They asked the old priest if he knew where they had buried their friend. ‘It was dark last night and we were exhausted. We must have been disoriented.’
“A smile flashed across the old priest’s face. ‘After you left last night, I could not sleep, so I went outside early this morning and I moved the fence.’”
Isn’t that truly the power of God’s grace through Christ’s death and resurrection? Jesus through taking our sin upon himself on Calvary’s cross changed the rules of the game. Those who were at one time outside the fence now are included in God’s plan of salvation. The Apostle John in one of the most famous verses in all the world says it so eloquently, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” God showers on the world that would reject his love grace upon grace through his Son, Jesus Christ. Who moved the fence? Jesus did. Why did he move the fence? Because of his love for the world. How did move the fence? By taking on himself the sins of the entire world. And what does that mean for us? If we believe in him we will not perish but live life eternal reunited with the Creator. I am so glad he moved that fence and included me in his kingdom.
Here is the link to the accompanying devotional on this video.
Finishing With A Kick
Paul spoke the words of 2 Timothy 4:7 as he sat in a Roman jail, knowing that he was soon to be martyred for the faith. You sense the incredible relief in his spirit as he says, “I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day.”
Hebrews 12:1-3 is not only about running the race, but it is about finishing it well.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer, and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him, he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
In Hebrews 12 it says, “Therefore since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders.” Paul is using the metaphor of running. “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance.” There’s that “P” word I know that I don’t enjoy very much.
“Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
A cross-country team ran on a golf course. In order to do this official had to go out and placing flags on the course to show the runners where they were supposed to run. One color indicated “left turn.” Another color meant “right turn.” Another indicated to the runners to go “straight ahead.”
That was the race marked out in advance for the runners; if they wanted to win a medal, they had to follow the course marked out.
In this Christian life, God has gone before us laying out the flags for our journey. The faith given to us by God himself allows us to run the race God has marked out. Faith in the God who knows your end from your beginning. The God knows all the days of your life. In his great foreknowledge, he has gone ahead of you and planted these flags ahead of you. And the Scripture says, “Run with perseverance the race marked out for you.”
This is one the most difficult parts of the life of faith. The Christian life at times seems unfair. There are times in your race when you will wrestle with thoughts like, “Why does my race seem so tough?” You want to feel sorry for yourself. It will become easy to look at someone else and say, “Boy if I had his or her race to run, no problem. I could handle that. If I had their bank account, I could do that “p-thing”, persevere. What If God had given me a better partner then I could complete this race? For those traveling this journey alone, you may wish God gave you a partner to run alongside you.
When the race gets tough Satan tends to whisper in your ear “It’s okay for you to quit. You don’t have to run with perseverance because God gave you a raw deal. Your course is so much harder than that of other people’s. It ok just quit.” Have you ever felt that way? I know I have. When the going got tough I wanted to just quit going.
But God says, “I want you to run this race. This is what I hold you accountable for. Don’t think about others. You just look at me. And together, we’ll run your race.” On the blog Friday, I have a video designed to inspire you in your race.
Some of you saw the movie Chariots of Fire back in 1981. It was the true story of Eric Liddell, a man who ran for Scotland, after the Olympics and his graduation he returned to North China where he served as a missionary from 1925 to 1943. You may recall that he refused to run on the Sabbath, forfeiting some of the awards he probably would have won in the 1924 Olympics.
Well, there was another scene in that movie that may have appeared like Hollywood fiction, but it was also true. One year before the pivotal event in the movie, Eric Liddell ran in a meet between England, Ireland and Scotland. He ran the 100-, 220-, and 440-yard events.
In the 440, he got off to a bad start. When that gun sounded, there was a lot of shoving to get in front to the inside lane, the advantageous position.
Liddell tangled feet with J. J. Gillies of England and tumbled to the track. He sat there dazed for a moment, not knowing whether he could get up, when the official screamed, “Get up and run!”
He jumped to his feet and took off after the pack, which was now full twenty yards ahead of him. In a quarter mile, that’s a big distance to try to make up. In his unorthodox style of running, he took off after the pack. He pulled into fourth place ten yards behind the leader, J. J. Gillies.
With forty yards to go, he pulled into third place, then second. Right at the tape, he passed Gillies, stuck his chest out, won the race, and collapsed to the track in total exhaustion. Medical personnel had to assist him off the track that day.
An article appearing the next day in The Scotsman newspaper said, “Veterans whose memories take them back thirty-five years and in some cases longer in the history of athletics were unanimous in the opinion that Liddell’s win in the quarter mile was the greatest track performance they had ever seen.“The circumstances in which Liddell won the race made it a performance bordering on the miraculous.
Some of you have been knocked down. Maybe Satan has tripped you up. Perhaps you have made some foolish decisions. Perhaps other people have done you wrong. When we’re down on the track we’re embarrassed. We’re ashamed. At times, we feel self-pity, we get angry at the world even at ourselves. We’re depressed. At times like this, we just feel like staying down on the track. But the only real shame is to stay down on the track. We are people of the resurrection. We are people of grace. We are forgiven. God’s grace says to you don’t have to stay down. Christ picks you up. He dusts you off and he says run!
God’s word of encouragement to you today is, “Get up and run!” Forget those who have wronged you. Forget those who have said your race or your background disqualify you from the race. Forget what lies behind and run for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. You still have a race ahead of you.
Philippians 1:6 doesn’t say, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day you fail and flop on the track.” It says, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ.”
Jesus looked Peter right in the eyes and said, “You’re going to deny me.” But he said, “When you turn back, strengthen your brothers.” Get right back into God’s calling and purpose for you. Don’t stay down on the track. Get up and run! By faith finish. May God give you the grace and strength to finish your race with a kick!
A young pastor was conducting the funeral of a war veteran. The dead man’s military friends, wanting a part in the service, asked him to escort them to the casket, stand with them for a moment of remembrance, then lead them out through the side door. The pastor did precisely that, but not being familiar with the funeral
home, he picked the wrong door. They marched with military precision into a janitorial closet! That story says two things about leadership. First, if you’re going to lead, you’d better know where you’re going. Second, if you’re going to follow, you’d better
support someone who knows where he’s going.
Being someone who has been blessed with or cursed with the spiritual gift of administration, this concept of not using my leadership gift is troubling. Is it right for me as a pastor to sit on or bury my God-given gifts? Scripture would caution me not to conceal that gift, saying apparently this is an unfaithful management of God’s gifts.
Matthew shares this parable of Jesus,
24 “Now the one who had received one valuable coin came and said, ‘Master, I knew that you are a hard man. You harvest grain where you haven’t sown. You gather crops where you haven’t spread seed. 25 So I was afraid. And I hid my valuable coin in the ground. Here, you have what’s yours.’ 26 “His master replied, ‘You evil and lazy servant! You knew that I harvest grain where I haven’t sown and that I gather crops where I haven’t spread seed? 27 In that case, you should have turned my money over to the bankers, so that when I returned, you could give me what belonged to me with interest.”
If you have been given the gift of leadership, then lead. There is a way to shepherd a congregation faithfully as a pastor let us explore a few key things to keep in mind.
Christian leaders place God first.
‘‘As we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, even so, we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts.’’ 1 Thessalonians 2:4,
Authentic, godly leadership places its focus on equipping His saints for service not to puff ourselves up but to do the will of our Father. One reason pastors and other Christians do not want to lead is that leadership is hard, it comes with a high cost. When the Apostle Paul tried to lead he had to deal with a major pushback. People questioned his motives, they questioned his theology and questioned his methods. Paul reminded them that his teaching and leadership came from God’s truth. Too often leaders ask, ‘‘Will it work?’’ rather than ‘‘Is it true?’’
Look at how Paul responded to the attacks when he was questioned. He told
the Thessalonians, “You can testify to our work. 2 As you know, we suffered rough and insulting treatment in Philippi. But our God gave us the courage to tell you his Good News in spite of strong opposition. 3 When we encouraged you, we didn’t use unethical schemes, corrupt practices, or deception. 4 Rather, we are always spreading the Good News. God trusts us to do this because we passed his test. We don’t try to please people, but God, who tests our motives. 5 As you know, we never used flattery or schemes to make money. God is our witness! 6 We didn’t seek praise from people, from you or from anyone else, 7 although as apostles of Christ we had the right to do this.” (GWN)
Authentic leadership places its focus on God: His approval, his purpose, and will above all else. How do we recognize such leaders? By the testimony of those they serve. The focus of their message and ministry squarely centered on the proclamation of the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and delivered with care and love for God’s people. You hear that so clearly in Paul’s words, “8 We felt so strongly about you that we were determined to share with you not only the Good News of God but also our lives. That’s how dear you were to us!” (GWN)
Christian leaders focus on God’s kingdom.
Leadership is more than talents and techniques; it is humility and caring for those we’re leading. Notice the images in verses 7 and 11: ‘‘We were gentle . . . As a nursing mother . . . As a father.’’ In verse 9, Paul says he supported himself on behalf of the church. If we’re going to be leaders in God’s service, it can’t be done from a distance. We must lower our defenses and love people for Christ’s sake. That makes us vulnerable. That means when attacks come it hurts more, but that is the high cost of leadership. It is easier to not lead but doesn’t the mission of God, and his sheep deserve our all our sacrifice? God provides
the courage and the strength for us to lead, so we need to lead.
I am guessing you too have noticed the bumper sticker
reading, “Start Seeing Motorcycles.” Well, that is working. I am really noticing them more, I can’t help seeing one and thinking of that bumper sticker. So it caused me to think maybe I should commission a company to make a bumper sticker with the phrase, “Start Seeing Hurting People.”Maybe it would raise our awareness of the pain of suffering that is all around in our
town, in our neighborhoods and even in our pews.
With that awareness in mind this blog today is about doing outreach from the perspective of if you want to truly make a kingdom impact (again with the doctrine of salvation in mind the Holy Spirit converts we do not.) we need to start seeing hurting people. In the encounter, Jesus had with the woman at the well in John 4, he did something amazing he shows us how to notice hurting people. Today we will examine just how he did that. Here is a portion of that conversation:
Jesus: Would you draw water, and give Me a drink?
Woman: I cannot believe that You, a Jew, would associate
with me, a Samaritan woman; much less ask me to give You a drink. Jews, you see, have no dealings with Samaritans.(The Voice)
Jesus saw her through spiritual eyes.
If Jesus looked at her through the eyes of culture, he would have seen only this about her, she was unclean, she had a very questionable past. She was a woman, who in that culture alone, meant she had a second class status just by virtue of her gender. Now add to that her moral issues of having had five husbands, which was two more that society allows and culturally she was the one the Lord should have just ignored.
If Jesus saw her through the eyes of history, she and her entire Samaritan clan were enemies of the Jews. As one historian recounts, “The woman reminded him that
Jews and Samaritans had no social dealings. This situation dated back to 722 b.c. when the Assyrian captivity was concluded by Sargon, who resettled nearly thirty thousand people from Samaria to other points in the Assyrian Empire. They were replaced by captives from other countries, and a pluralistic culture of sorts developed. Any Jew would become ceremonially unclean by using a vessel handled by a Samaritan.”
Viewing this woman through the eyes of history she was
unclean. If Jesus views her through social eyes this conversation should have never taken
place. The person with whom he spoke was not only a Samaritan but a woman. For a Jewish man to speak to a Samaritan woman was unheard of, and she probably had never experienced a similar conversation. She represents an oppressed minority, still a common reality in many Middle Eastern culture. But Jesus was neither racist nor sexist. He knew that his question would lead to far more than an exchange of words and water.
Jesus did not see anyone who was an outcast. He didn’t see a woman who, by making contact with her, would make him unclean. What Jesus saw was an opportunity to share the hope that we have in being united with Jesus in his kingdom.
Jesus respected but did not judge her journey.
Jesus pushed all metaphors aside and dealt in straight talk. Like this woman, we must recognize our sin and understand that God sees us for what we are, broken and weighed down by sin and guilt. This woman lived outside the boundaries of any religious or cultural standards of her day. Confronted by the sting of the law through Jesus’ penetrating analysis of her moral condition, the woman like so many of us would
change the subject. Let’s talk about religion, where is the proper place of
worship? As we encounter hurting people with social and moral backgrounds outside of our religious norms, be prepared for the conversation quickly becoming uncomfortable. How you handle those conversations may determine if this relationship moves forward.
As we encounter hurting people with social and moral backgrounds outside of our religious norms, be prepared for the conversation quickly becoming uncomfortable. How you handle those conversations may determine if this relationship moves forward.
Jesus chose to not judge her checkered past, but instead offer her a different path.
Jesus offers the hurting a different path.
Dr. Martin Luther, suggested the conversation should have gone this way, “I would be happier to reverse the order and give you a drink. In fact, this is the reason for My presence here. I am asking for a drink to quench My physical thirst that I might have occasion to give you a drink. If you only realized what a gift is now to be found on earth, you would ask Me for it, and I would give you a drink that would taste better than this water. It is of the utmost importance to recognize this gift and to know Him who gives it. But neither the gift, nor the Giver is known.” 1 Our outreach is meant to point people to the gift, faith in the redeeming work of Christ Jesus and the giver, God the Father who sent his Son to redeem the hurting.
So we pray that God will give us the spiritual eyes to start seeing hurting people.
1Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 22: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 1-4. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 22, p. 525). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.
9 How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? 10 Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith. 11 Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. 12 May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. 13 May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones. I Thessalonians 3:9-13
The survey came in overwhelming for this week to cover the topic of reaching out to the community. Let me lay out this article of faith right out of the gate. We don’t bring anyone to faith, that is the work of the Holy Spirit. As the Apostle Paul points out in 1 Corinthians, “Because of this, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but the only one who is anything is God who makes it grow.”
The place any outreach initiative begins, is on bended knee with prayer. You see that in the Apostle Paul’s words to the church in Thessalonica. There are three critical parts of this prayer that become the starting place for the church seeking to connect with its community.
Our love increases by us showing love for others, both inside and outside the body of Christ, the church. Isn’t that the simplicity and the difficulty of the call to be a church engaged in the mission of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. You see love is not just some mushy emotion, but it is grounded in mercy and service, as a vehicle for the people of God to demonstrate God’s love to others.
What Paul clearly shows is that if you want your love to increase that happens as we first pray for the health and well-being of other people. This is hard because is to so contrary to our sinful way of thinking. The sinner in us says our needs come first, I have been in church meetings where I hear things like this “We need to get our act together before we can go out into the community and invite people into our fellowship” Or “We have to take care of our needs before we can help those unfortunate souls out there.” Now for some people who are dealing with some severe emotional trauma in life that may be true. But for most of us, one of the best ways to gain some insights into our own life is to pray for other people.
I should warn you though if you pray as Paul suggested that our love increase. It will transform the way you view hurting people. Some bible commentators added this to this section on love:
Heubner: Love should not be scanty, poor, but rich, exuberant.
Chrysostom: Love after God’s kind embraces all. If thou lovest this man, and that man not at all, this is nothing but a friendship after a human sort.
Matthew Henry: We are beholden to God not only for the stock put into our hands at first but for the improvement of it also.—The more we are beloved, the more loving we should be.—J. L.
In praying for our love to increase, it transforms how we perceive those outside the body of Christ. It allows us to see them through the eyes of Christ, to have our hearts like his broken for those who are discouraged by the Church, distanced from God, disenfranchised from Christian fellowship. And that view of them through Christ’s eyes changes the very way we do ministry. It moves us, compels us to reach in love as Christ would guide and direct us. As my partner in ministry would say, this view leads to an attitude change and attitude change leads to a change in action.
2. Paul prays for them in light of the future. (V. 13) 13 May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.
Jesus lived in the present with an eye on the future.
5 All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result, you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. 6 God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you 7 and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels.
The future impacts the presence! As believers, we live in the assurance of everlasting life. We live in joyful anticipation of the second coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ because we know when he comes he we see us through the eyes of his sacrifice for our sins, His shed blood. However, for those outside this community of faith, Jesus sees their lifetime of sin, of bad decisions, their mistakes, their broken and destroyed relationships and their rejection of the forgiveness offered to them through His Son. So they face the full weight of that lifetime outside of God’s grace.
We have the supreme joy and opportunity to be used by the Holy Spirit to communicate to those outside of God’s grace that Christ has come, has suffered, has died, and rose again to repair the brokenness your sin has caused and reunite you with your Father in heaven. So that when Jesus comes again we can all stand together to meet him blameless on the day of his coming. That is at the heart of our mission. To be used by the Holy Spirit to see God perform the miracle of faith and turn enemies of God into friends of God.
3. Paul Prays out of his own deep and sincere love for others.
Why does Paul invest so much of himself in others?
6 We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else. As apostles of Christ, we could have been a burden to you, 7 but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. 8 We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well because you had become so dear to us.
He deeply and genuinely loved them. Serious prayer for others forces us to get serious about ourselves and our God. One congregation to live this out placed all the first names of unchurched people on a board as a reminder of Christ’s mission. As a reminder to place that burden of those outside of God’s grace in their hearts. If they are on God’s heart should they not also be on ours? Outreach begins with the church of God on bended knee praying for those hurting souls in our community.
May God bless you and may God bless His Church.
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