Christianity 201

January 21, 2017

You Can Be The Someone in Anyone’s Life

As I explained last year at this time, for several years I received a devotional booklet in the mail from James MacDonald and Walk In The Word titled Our Journey. After calling a local Harvest Bible Chapel, I learned that the devotional is now an online resource, and today, a year later, we pay a return visit.

That Special Someone

My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins (James 5:19–20, ESV).

“Anyone,” meet “someone.”

The beauty of this passage from James 5 is evident in God’s personal care for His children as He matches up a “someone” with an “anyone” for a life-saving mission.

As you think today about those you know who aren’t living for God as they once did, the name that most likely comes to mind is someone close to you—a family member, longtime friend, or workplace associate. Perhaps, in fact, every time a sermon or small group discussion poses a similar type of question, this person has been your immediate answer for as long as you can remember.

“What an answer to someone else’s prayer you could become by obediently following up on a spiritual nudge from the Lord.”

You’ve probably made several attempts through the years to try persuading them to take God’s Word more seriously. Apparently to no avail. And sad to say, they may be closed off to hearing it from you at this point. Experience tells us they’ll respond best hearing it from somebody else now, some other way. And while you can (and should) stay persistent and faithful, always ready to lead them lovingly back to Christ, begin trusting God now to put this person of yours on some other believer’s heart who can represent Him to them with a fresh face and approach.

But don’t consider yourself a failure, ineffective, or out of a job . . . because there’s someone else who’s in your shoes today, who’s weary of trying and failing to get through to a loved wanderer. And they’re praying for someone like you to come along.

Unlike them, your relationship with this person who’s most on their heart is not as a spouse or sibling but is more coincidental. Maybe you went to high school or college with them. Maybe you used to work out at the same gym. Maybe their family and your family once lived on the same street and had kids the same age. But you knew then, or you’ve heard since, that they stopped walking with the Lord. And lately, as you’ve been open to the Spirit’s stirring in your heart, this person’s name and memory keep popping up—unexpectedly, yet with a certain weight and frequency.

Eventually, “someone” is going to bring them back. “Someone” is going to find this “anyone” that the Spirit is working to help you acknowledge. But why should “anyone” wait any longer when “someone” like you is already primed to be thinking of them and praying for them? Finding them may take a bit of work, especially if it’s a person you haven’t seen in a long time. But what a pleasant surprise for them if they were to hear from you. And what an answer to someone else’s prayer you could become by obediently following up on what you know to be a spiritual nudge from the Lord.

When the Bible says to go after “anyone” who’s wandered from the truth, you can never say a person is too far gone to be reached, or that the situation is too messy and complicated to get involved. And when the Bible says “someone,” you know that any of us should be expecting His call at any time. He wouldn’t be alerting you about it if making this connection wasn’t part of His plan, if He wasn’t actively extending His grace to this individual and wooing them back into fellowship with Him.

Don’t underestimate the urgency of your mission. Be the “someone” to go after “anyone” today.

Journal

  • Who comes to mind when you think of “someone” who influenced your decision to embrace Christ as savior, or to return from wandering?
  • Ask the Lord to give you “anyone” to pursue for His sake. Who does He bring to mind?

Pray
God, in this moment I ask You to stir in me such a burden that I cannot escape it. Touch my heart with someone that I can reach out to with renewed friendship and grace. Let my obedience not be determined by their response, but by the overflow of love and mercy You’ve poured out on my heart and life. Even though I have my own burdens, cause me to know that when I take up what matters most to You, You will meet my needs in ways that are beyond what I could ask for or imagine. Use me as You see fit, for Your glory alone. In Jesus’ name, amen.

 

November 22, 2013

The Parable of the Lost Sheep

sheep1

For three recent blog posts, Kevin Rogers at the blog The Orphan Age has been studying the parable that is part of a trilogy of stories that we call “The Lost Sheep.” Below are excerpts from the series and a link to each.

Luke 15:

Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

One hundred sheep represent a healthy community. Together they have shared resources and maintain a strong defense. The predators are warded off by the efforts of good shepherding.

Jesus told this story to religious leaders who were entrusted to take care of God’s flock in Israel. They noted with contempt that Jesus always surrounded himself with the people who were not righteous. This story responds to the Scribes’ and Pharisees’ self-righteous, smug posturing.

People who were immoral or who followed occupations that the scribes held to be incompatible with keeping God’s law. A rabbinic rule stated that “one must not associate with an ungodly man,” and the rabbis would not even teach such a person… The rabbis taught that God would welcome a penitent sinner, but these parables teach that God seeks out the sinner.[i]

The Jewish leaders excluded those who wandered away from their demanding righteousness. These people who got into trouble were the lost sheep and expected to find their own way home. Shepherding was conditional upon compliance with flock standards of behaviour.

The fact that tax collectors and sinners listen to Jesus while the leadership does not is a cultural reversal of expectation. Sometimes hearers are found in surprising places.[ii]

Religious elitism and arrogance always leaves people on their own without community. Hard-hearted religion leaves behind its homeless sheep.

[i] Reformation Study Bible
[ii] The IVP New Testament Commentary Series

Read THE PROBLEM WITH EXCLUSIVE CHURCHES in full.


Through Jesus’ continuing use of the sheep/shepherd metaphor we learn some important things about God’s involvement in peoples’ lives. Jesus echoed what the ancient Scriptures spoke of. What is a good shepherd?

Ezekiel 34:

For this is what the sovereign Lord says, “I will search for my sheep and look after them. 12 As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. 13 I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. 14 I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord.16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.

God says that this is what is in his heart towards people. Ezekiel described 4 characteristics that are consistent with Jesus’ leadership. As Jesus’ followers, have these values started to grow in us?

1.     God searches for the lost
2.     God brings back the strays
3.     God binds up the injured
4.     God strengthens the weak

Continue reading THE VALUE OF 1%


The parable of the lost sheep speaks to the challenge of living right. Personal righteousness was a central theme to Scribes and Pharisees. Lost sheep were those who did not follow the leader and stay with the flock. They disobeyed the rules of good sheep:

1.     Sheep need to listen to shepherd’s voice and follow
2.     Sheep have a communal flock instinct. Sheep that are ill might wander away

When someone distances him/herself from the faith community, it is usually for similar reasons. They have had poor leadership in their life or lacked respect for shepherds in general. Wanderers let the sickness of soul lead them away instead of letting a good shepherd restore them to health, bind their wounds or accommodate for their weakness.

So we may easily blame sheep for wandering away. But that is not the moral of the story. The heart of God searches for the wanderers and brings them home, fully aware that the sheep is sick, wounded or foolish. The Shepherd values every lamb and knows each weakness.

Read the conclusion of HOW TO GET LOST

August 1, 2013

Jesus Embraces Outsiders

mark_217i_have_not_come_to_call_the_righteous_but_sinners-384746

Our core text today is from Matthew 9 and also appears in Mark 2. 

First we go to Matt Stone at Glocal Christianity:

What does it mean to belong? What does it mean to be invited in? What does it mean to be cast out?

Jesus had a funny way of redefining community. He chose to associate with the “unclean” to the consternation of the “clean”, he welcomed the unwelcome, he befriended the friendless, he identified with the alienated.  In the gospels we read:

When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:11-13)

In other words, for Jesus in was out and out was in. You’re not an insider with God unless you’re for outsiders with God. Consider your own community or social network. How does it compare to this? Are you up for a challenge? I think Jesus still has some surprises for us.

On the same passage, Peter K. Greer writes:

One of the greatest obstacles to the Gospel is when we pretend we have it all together.

Hide our faults. Talk about our struggles in the past tense. Convince ourselves that if we can’t see our sins, they must not exist.

But this attitude is toxic – and sets us up for even greater failure.

Personally, I have found freedom in finally letting go of the lie that because I’m a follower of Jesus, I’m supposed to have it all together.

In The Spiritual Danger of Doing Good, I share just a few of the times pride caused me to make poor leadership decisions, how I masked workaholic behavior with ministry language, and how I’ve simply made a mess of things.

I’m not sure why sharing such stories was a good idea. But I have been touched by the responses from friends who’ve read it. It’s as if taking off the man makeup and opening up with some of my faults has allowed even deeper friendships and conversations.

Musician Thad Cockrell said, Strengths divide, but faults unite.

Brokenness brings people together and is a prerequisite to understanding the Good News.

At its core, the Gospel is for broken people. It isn’t a message for the people who believe they have it all together. Jesus said, It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners (Mark 2:17).

We can’t understand Grace unless we recognize we don’t have it all together.  So let’s stop pretending.  And then begin a journey of healing and restoration in complete dependence on our Savior.

Using different language and from another perspective, researcher Brene Brown comes to a similar conclusion in her powerful TED talk, “The Power of Vulnerability.”

If you want to join a community of beautifully broken people, check out People of the Second Chance: http://www.potsc.com/. Mike Foster founded this community to celebrate stories of those who don’t have it all together, who are broken, messed up, but come back with a renewed reliance on God’s grace.

When was the last time, in a trusted relationship, you found the freedom that comes when we stop pretending we have it all together?

Canada’s Gordon Rumford writes:

While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners. Mark 2:15-17 (NIV)

Our verses today show a group of people highly critical of our Lord. Jesus was hanging out with “sinners”. The tax collectors the Jews hated so much were Jews who collected taxes for the Roman authorities. The critical people believed themselves to be devout, holy, and well above the level of the individuals Jesus associated with.

Sadly the self-righteous Jews did not recognize that Jesus had not come to spend His time with people who had a high opinion of themselves. Rather He had come for those who knew themselves to be sinners in God’s sight and who desired to change and be different. Jesus had a heart for people in pain—people who were struggling with life and its temptations. He desired to deliver or “cure” those who were “sick” with sin.

Jesus was not afraid of scandal as long as He could connect with those others scorned. Never exclude yourself from the circle of Jesus’ disciples (the church) because of your previous bad behavior. Your life may have been sadly distorted because of sin but Jesus is in the reconstruction business.

Jesus loves to move into a situation where a person has really hit bottom as far as morality is concerned. He is often pictured in Scripture coming alongside the most miserable failures in life and bringing them to a place of useful service to the Father and His people.

Even the repentant thief has been used for centuries as an example of one coming to Jesus in death and having themselves delivered from the results of sin. So that poor man’s few moments of life as a believer prior to death has had a wonderful effect on countless thousands who felt they were too far gone to be redeemed. His conversion story has given hope to many.

Whatever way you have sinned against the Lord—however awful your record is—never doubt Jesus can take you and make a trophy of grace out of you. He can make your life into something beautiful and full of praise to Him Who is the Friend of sinners.

Do you know someone who needs to hear this devotional today? If your life has been transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit go and tell some other sinner that Jesus is the Friend of sinners and has a message of hope and transformation for them. Needy people are waiting to hear the Good News. Go and speak the redeeming word to them today.

At The Bare Soul Daily Devotional, Rick Roeber writes:

Matthew 9:13 – “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Has the Lord ever told us to “go and learn?” While this may sound harsh, it is God’s remedy for those with a stubborn heart. Religiosity can often make us legalistic and unbending. Yet, Jesus tells this sort to head back to spiritual kindergarten and learn the basics of His message – compassion and mercy that are powered by love.

Do we feel like we have given up much for God and that others should do the same? Possibly our sacrifice is not the same as the next fellow’s. Perhaps God has for them a different cross to bear that looks nothing like ours. Our position is to be positionless regarding their position and their walk with God. We should not judge a man unless we are also willing to grant them mercy in our judgment. Our appraisals should always be based in righteous, humble thinking (John 7:24). This is our safeguard against haughtiness, beloved.

Image: LiveLuvCreate

July 7, 2013

If Anyone Hears My Voice

Revelation 3 20In looking at Revelation 3:20 yesterday, we stumbled on a blog that offered insights on the passage we wanted to share here in full. We don’t normally spend two days on one verse, but I really appreciated this analysis. This is from the blog Gulf Coast Pastor and appeared in 2011 under the title Revelation 3:20 – Can We Use It In Evangelism?

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him and he with Me. -Jesus Christ; Revelation 3:20

Some say this verse should never be used to lead someone to the Lord because it was written to a church, not to lost people. Some go so far as to ridicule the ignorance of anyone who would use it in evangelism.

In contrast, many, many Baptist and Christian preachers of the Gospel have preached this verse to not only the saved, but also to the lost. Many a lost soul has been won to the Lord through this passage of Scripture.

It is granted that the verse is primarily written to the church at Laodicea. It is also granted that this verse alone does not present the gospel or the plan of salvation in its totality. (You could even argue that about John 3:16; after all it says nothing about the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.)

The plan of salvation includes our sin and separation from God, God’s holiness, His love, Jesus’ death on the cross for our sins, His blood being shed for us, and his literal resurrection from the dead. We are to ask forgiveness for our sins. We are to believe and accept Jesus as our Lord (Boss, Master) and Savior. (1 Corinthians 15:1-4; Romans 3:23; 6:23; 5:8; 10:9-10, 13; John 1:12; 3:16; 5:24)

But when the full plan of salvation is presented, Revelation 3:20 is valid to use in explaining the biblical concept of accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

I and many before me believe Revelation 3:20 is valid to use in evangelism because:

1. We can go too far in saying this verse is not for you. All of the Bible is written as God’s love letter to mankind.

I know you can also go too far the other way; but here I do not think that is the case. For example, Romans is addressed to the saints (Romans 1:7-8). Does anyone argue that because of this the Roman Road verses cannot be used for evangelism? If they so argue, they are wrong.

2. Jesus’ words in Revelation 3:20 are valid for a saved person. They are also valid for a lost person.

3. Jesus’ words in Revelation 3:20 illustrate Jesus’ attitude toward a lost person and what the person must do to be saved. This can be shown from many Bible passages.

Does a lost person have to do something to be saved? Yes. Jesus wholly accomplished the work of salvation. But a man must respond, must believe, must call on the name of the Lord, must reach out and receive the gift of God. (John 1:12; Romans 10:9-10, 13; John 3:16; Acts 16:30-31; etc.) In other words, a man must open the door of his heart and invite Jesus in.

A number of verses reveal that when we are saved Jesus comes to live in our hearts. Other verses refer to the Holy Spirit living within us.  Ephesians 3:17; Colossians 1:27; 2 Corinthians 1:22; Galatians 4:6; 2 Peter 1:19; John 7:38; etc. (also, our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit).

4. Revelation 3:20 is given to whoever will take it. Notice Jesus’ use of the word, “anyone.” That includes the saved and the lost, all the world.

5. Just as today, the church at Laodicea would have included unsaved visitors and unsaved members (Jesus even had an unsaved disciple!)*; especially a lukewarm church like Laodicea.

Jesus would certainly have known this and included them in His invitation. Just as pastors today include the saved and the lost in the public invitation they give in their church.

If Revelation 3:20 cannot be used for the lost because it was given to a church, then it would be invalid for pastors today to give a salvation invitation in church. After all, if they are in church, they surely must all be saved!

6. It could even be argued that Jesus knocking at the door and us inviting Him in is more valid for a lost person that for a saved person.

A person is welcome to disagree and use their own verses in evangelism. But those who use this verse in evangelism are not doing so out of ignorance.

David R. Brumbelow, Gulf Coast Pastor, October 4, AD 2011.

*  Of course, every member of a Baptist church should be a believer.  The requirements to be a member of a Baptist church are usually two:  You have personally received Christ as your Savior, and you have subsequently been Scripturally baptized (Beleiver’s Baptism by Immersion).  But we all know there are those who have made an outward profession of faith without meaning it in their hearts.

Saved By The Sinner’s Prayer
The Roman Road of Salvation
Unlimited Atonement, Jesus Died For All

July 16, 2011

When 99 Out of 100 Isn’t Good Enough

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Walt Mueller posted this on his blog, Learning my Lines…

What I Saw At Home Depot. . . And A Good Ending. . .


So last night I’m standing at the paint counter at our local Home Depot while the clerk’s got my two cans shaking violently in the machine under the counter. I’m guessing that most Home Depot stores are set up in the same way. The paint counter sits on the open aisle spanning the width of the store way up front, just across from all the check-out registers. If you want to see all the action at a Home Depot – and who wouldn’t!?!? – then the paint counter offers a pretty good 360 degree vantage point.

Quickly bored while waiting for shaking paint cans, I started watching people. A young woman carrying a potted plant started walking in my direction from the door to the outdoor garden center. She was moving fast and looking up each aisle. “Must have lost her husband,” I thought to myself. At about the time she passed me I noticed that traffic near the store’s front door had come to some kind of halt, with a half a dozen folks just standing there after coming into the store. Then, a few orange-aproned store employees starting moving toward the exits. Three of them merged right next to me. One had a walkie-talkie and was barking instructions about a “Code Adam.” I assumed someone was seen pocketing an item and trying to walk out of the store. Stupid me.

In a matter of seconds, I figured out what a “Code Adam” is. I looked towards the garden center doorway and saw a middle-aged woman walking briskly in with a little two-year old boy in her arms and a smile on her face. The woman had a big smile on her face. At this point, the young woman with the potted flower started walking from the other direction with a look of pained relief on her face. Before mother and way-ward son were reunited, I realized what “Code Adam” was all about. The young mother held the potted plant in one arm and her son tightly in the other as she went to the register. The tears in her eyes and her grasp on that little boy spoke loudly. It was a story that ended well.

On the way home, I wondered to myself about how “Code Adam” got its name. I figured it might have something to do with the 1981 disappearance of little Adam Walsh in Miami, Florida. A quick search of the Internet confirmed my hunch. I lived in Miami when Walsh disappeared. I had been away for the weekend on a retreat with my youth group kids when Walsh went missing. I remember driving back and passing through toll booths plastered with “missing child” flyers covered with the little boy’s picture. It was all over the news. That story did not end well.

Watching that mini-drama unfold from my paint counter vantage-point really got me thinking about kids lost to the culture, what it means to be spiritually lost, and our loving Shepherd/Father. I was thinking about the story of the Prodigal Son. I was thinking about Jesus leaving the 99 to go after the one lost sheep. I was thinking about the urgency He has and the way we need to share that same sense of urgency. Everyone at Home Depot was focused on one thing for those few very long minutes last night.

Is there a lesson in there for me?

~ Walt Mueller