Sunday, 9 September 2012

Encounter God. Love people.

Last spring I gave some thought to our vision as a church.  I didn’t come up with a list of goals or targets.  Instead I believe that I was led to a process.  It is a process that focuses on three things: transforming, engaging and explaining.  The relationship between these verbs can be expressed as follows:

We are seeking to be a community of people who enjoy a transforming relationship with God, which compels us to connect with others in love and to seek opportunities to explain the reason for the hope we have within us.
I hope to illustrate what I mean in this morning’s talk.

When we became Christians we began a journey.  If we have really understood what the gospel is about we will realise that we are to change.  With the indwelling presence of the person of the Holy Spirit we have been given the power to change.   Not that we will be perfect in this life.  But the inevitable result of truly depending on God is that the character of Christ is being formed in us.
Think of the fruit of the Holy Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians -23).  Who does that sound like?  That sounds like Christ!  That is because we are being transformed into the likeness of our Lord (2 Cor. ).
God is at work within us causing us to will and act according to his good purpose (Phil. ).  He who began a good work in us will see it through to completion (Phil. 1:6).  The seed that falls on the good soil produces a crop of some thirty, sixty or a hundred times what is sown (Mark ). 
Jesus teaches that we cannot produce true spiritual fruit unless we remain in him, and he warns us that if we do not bear fruit we are fit to be destroyed.  One thing that struck me as I looked at Jesus’ teaching on the branches and the fruit, in John 15, is that it is tied up with loving his people.  If we don’t love his people then we are missing a crucial piece of evidence with regards to being born again. 
I know that I have said this too often, but our lives should be like that of the hymn-writer John Newton who said, ‘I may not be what I ought to be, but by the grace of God I am better than I used to be.’
Kathi Sharpe was into the dangerous world of Wicca and pagan religions.  But God rescued her and she began to be transformed.  ‘Before I became a Christian, I had become a bitter and sarcastic person.  And I showed my greatest hatred toward my immediate boss.  We couldn’t stand to be in the same room with each other.  Right after I prayed the sinner’s prayer, she walks into my office and I smile at her.  She utters some profanity, asking what was wrong with me.  I told her that I had just found Jesus.  She exited the room quickly.’

Paul Blizard was a Jehovah’s Witness with a sick child.  One day he heard a knock at the door.  There was a woman there with a chicken dish for his family.  ‘I’m your neighbour.  I heard you had a sick child.  I wanted to make you a meal.’ 
‘I had argued hundreds of times with Christians … I hardly ever lost an argument when I went door to door … But when that woman came to my door, I could not proof text against Christian love … A prayer group from this lady’s church started bringing meals on a regular basis.  They started praying for us.’  That woman’s transforming life started Paul on a journey that resulted in him becoming a Christian. 

Erwin McManus writes, ‘The gospel flows best through the establishing of significant relationships that are authentic and healthy.’  We are the salt of the earth but we need to get out of the saltshaker and mix with those around us.  Some people will let you talk to them about Christ the first time you meet them but most people will need to trust you before they will take what you say seriously.  Look at the example of Jesus.  See the genuine and authentic way he related to people.  Watch him shares meal and go to parties.  Some people think that you should be at church every day of the week.  But I fear that if we develop a very busy church we will not get the time to form engaging relationships with our families, friends, neighbours, classmates and work-colleagues.
Helena Li was a Buddhist who had a bad experience with some insensitive Christians.  But then she met some who were different.  There love softened her heart so much that she accepted the invitation of a co-worker to go to church.  At the church service she put up her hand to say that she wanted to accept Christ into her life.  The love and support she received from that fellowship helped her blossom as a Christian.
Karen Townsend also had some negative experiences of so-called Christians.  After she came to faith she explained to others with similar experiences that ‘sometimes people have to get over bad Christians and churches before they can see Christ.’  Let’s make sure that when we are engaging with people we are doing so with a transforming life that produces authentic love.
So we are seeking to be a community of people who enjoy a transforming relationship with God, which compels us to connect with others in love and to seek opportunities to explain the reason for the hope we have within us.  We are good news people with a message to share.  We want to tell people that our sin was so serious that it would take nothing less than the death of God’s own son to deal with it, and that this is exactly what God has done.
Jesus pointed to the affects of a transforming life.  He taught people let our light shine before others, that they may see our good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven (Matthew ).  Peter wrote something similar: Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us (1 Peter ).  Peter went on to say, ‘But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect’ (1 Peter ).  As we engage with people in meaningful relationships our transforming lives are to arouse their interest and cause them to ask for an explanation.
A transforming life that is engaging with people leads to requests to explain.  Dr. N. S. R. K. Ravi was born a Hindu in India.  He now teaches in a seminary in America.  He is wheelchair bound.  He explains about sharing his faith with Hindu relatives and friends in America.  ‘Some of my own relatives here ask me how I live a life of joy and happiness.  They see my disability, but they see no anger and resentment.  They see a different kind of joy-filled life.  Sharing the gospel with them is easy—they ask me all the questions.’
Transforming, engaging and explaining! 
Steve Barack is an American Jew who discovered that Jesus is the promised Messiah of the Old Testament.  He explains that he believes in three mandates: ‘We must love God with every part of our being.  Second, we must love our neighbour with equal intensity.  And finally, we must take the gospel of Jesus to anyone and everyone without any hesitation.’  That sums up our mission statement.  We are seeking to be a community of people who enjoy a transforming relationship with God, which compels us to connect with others in love and to seek opportunities to explain the reason for the hope we have within us.


Paul said...

Just because people show kindness to each other, this does nothing to prove the truth of Christianity. Such organisations as Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières, show great acts of kindness simply due to their humanitarianism, this is done without any hidden agenda, nor without any desire to get people to join a religious group. I would have hoped that the examples of the people you gave, that such people would have shown kindness if they had been Christians or not.
It is only fair to state that people of many other faiths undertake great acts of kindness, as do a multitude of others who do not profess any religious faith.
The golden rule-do unto others as you would wish to be done unto yourself-existed long before Christianity plagiarized it.

To whom it may concern said...

Thanks for those comments Paul. I have no doubt that people from other beleif systems do many charitable deeds. In fact some of my friends, who do not share my understanding of faith, are very involved in good causes; I repect them for that. As regards to loving people with an agenda, I believe that doing good is worth doing for its own sake; it does not have to come with an evangalistic agenda. However, because I believe that a relationship with Jesus is the most fulfilling thing in this life then I would fall short of truly loving people if I had no desire for them to experience the life he offers.
God bless, Paul

Paul said...

Yes Paul, at least now you say that people of no faith do just as equally kind actions as people of faith. So I think it is important to point out that a person does not have to be a Christian in order to show kindness, but they do so simply because they are good human beings.

The issue of sharing your faith is a totally different matter, it is fair enough that you want to share your experince of Christianity, but of course many people of other faiths also want to share their experience of the life their faith offers, and like you, they also are sure they are right.

To whom it may concern said...

I agree that they believe that they feel that they are right, and that they would be as convinced that I am wrong as much as I think that they are wrong. Of course that observation shouldn't end discussion but draw people into greater enquiry and dialogue. The issue then is their a right that can be known? is there evidence that can be assessed? are there arguements that need to be thought through?