Sunday, May 24, 2009

Loving the Lost

What a beautiful sunny Sunday morning here this Memorial Day weekend. Pastor Brad Shannon began by noting that this is Ascension Sunday, the seventh Sunday after Easter. During this period after the Resurrection there were many proofs that He was alive and that we would be His witnesses.

Pastor Brad commented on the Craig Groeschel's book It which Brad had been reading this week, which tries to define what "it" is in those churches which are thriving. One theme which Brad draws out is the importance of loving the lost, a theme to be highlighted in today's message. Do we love those people who are far from God?

Announcements began with noting that there is no more Jr. & Sr. high youth group for the duration of the summer, as well as no men's Bible study. The Building Committee will be meeting on Tuesday evening at 7:00 p.m. at the church.

The quartet -- Chuck, Darlene, Ken and Dale -- led us in worship this morning, followed by the offering.

Brian Muecke was with us today and spoke to the congregation about the work that we are helping support at Covenant Park. This year is the 70th anniversary. The theme is Win, Build, Equip. That is, win people to Christ, build them up in the body of Christ, and Equip them for lives of service.

This was followed by a song by Levi Landsverk. Levi missed Confirmation last week and Brad said, kidding, that Levi would have to sing this week as a consequence. It turns out, Levi brought a CD and indeed performed for us a song that perfectly dovetailed with today's message about reaching out to others as Christ's body. The song had penetrating lyrics and it was a nice way to learn that we have yet another singer in the church.

The Scripture readings, from Acts 1:1-11 and Luke 24:44-53, were followed by a time of prayer.

Loving the Lost

Brad said he feels a little like One-Note Johnny as he repeats this ongoing theme that we need to love the lost. "It breaks my heart when people in churches say 'We need new members because we can't pay the bills.'" This and several other statements were cited to make the point that many non-Christians are far from Christ not because they were rejecting Jesus but they were rejecting the church.

One example of a problem in many churches is that the people are friendly, but often only to each other. That is, an outsider might visit, and instead of feeling welcome they can be made to feel unwanted, uncomfortable and awkward. This "inward focus" is a signal that the church is unhealthy. Healthy missional churches have a passion to share Christ with others.

Jesus was once asked what the greatest commandment was, and He said to love God. And the second greatest, "to love you neighbor as yourself." The two are actually one, because loving God means loving people.

All too often instead of loving the lost Christians insulate themselves from them because of the way they look, the movies they watch, the music they listen to, the clothes they wear, the cussing after a bad golf swing, the tattoos or piercings, or they are homosexuals. But these are the very people for whom Christ died.

Love propels us to reach out to the lost. "Do you love the lost?" Brad asked.

Brad pointed us to a passage in the New Testament from which important lessons could be drawn pertaining to this theme. One day, Jesus was teaching in someone's home. The door was open, which in Palestine meant you could enter, and when Jesus entered the house quickly became flooded with people. Four guys who saw that Jesus was here went to bring a crippled friend who desperately needed Jesus. They were thinking of someone else and not just themselves.

A healthy church can not just focus on itself, Brad said, and challenging us with the question, "How many meaningful conversations with non-Christians have you had this past week?" Fortunately, we can ask God to grow our heart for the lost.

Brad called these four men in the Gospel story the Fab Four. And he outlines four lessons we could take away from this account.

1. They recognized their friend needed Jesus.

2. We see that it took four people to get this one to Jesus. A healthy church recognizes it is not all the pastor's job. It's everyone's job. Outreach is a team effort.

3. The Fab Four did everything they could to get their friend to Jesus. The Gospel account states that they had to actually break in through the roof to get their friend to Jesus. They were determined to eliminate all barriers.

4. Faith that Jesus can actually change a person's life. The Fab Four had this kind of faith.

At this point Pastor Brad shared a line from the film The Guardian, in which Kevin Costner is an elite Coast Guard rescue diver. At one point someone asked Ben Randall (Costner) how many lives he's saved. The expectation is for a number in the hundreds, because his reputation is as one of the greats in this. He replies, 22. "That's the only number I ever counted." It was the number of those he'd failed to save. Instead of boasting of our achievements for Christ, healthy churches focus on how many more there are whom God wants to reach.

This is the Gospel.

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