Paul Lived For the Lost
As we address the Church in Crisis, we have seen the importance of placing our identity in the Gospel story. With that foundation we have looked at how we can address our challenges as architects of something new rather than just workers in something old. We then learned how Paul built his Gospel network - through radical partnerships. We conclude today by seeing how much effort will be required to accomplish our mission.
How much effort is it worth to make a new friend so that you can share with them the love from Christ? What time is worth spending? What resources are worth sacrificing?
Paul thought this question deserved a long answer. To his young disciples in Corinth, he wrote 27 verses to communicate how much he valued loving people by introducing them to Christ, even when that love came at tremendous personal cost.
“We would rather put up with anything than be an obstacle to the Good News about Christ. … Even though I am a free man with no master, I have become a slave to all people to bring many to Christ. … When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some. I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings. Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win!” (1 Corinthians 9:12, 19, 22-24)
For Paul, sharing his faith was not optional. It was an obsession he could not shake. Though undoubtedly saved by grace, sharing his faith was the way he measured how much he had been receiving God’s grace. It was a way of measuring his relationship with Christ. If Christ’s work was the world, and if he was caught up in Christ, then surely his mission should be the world as well. It was not good enough to just be one of those who share faith, he wanted to be the very best. He didn’t want his disciples to be content at their level of love or faith sharing. Instead they too should strive “to win.” His measuring stick was not about the number of conversions. It was about how much he was willing to sacrifice. Sacrifice and selflessness – agape love -- was the measure of success.
Question: What are we sacrificing to share our faith?
Is loving sacrifice the measure of our success?
We certainly can point to a history of giving time and money to send others on mission (missionaries/evangelists/church planters). But has the sacrifice gone into a personal place for us as disciples? Am I willing to open my time, my heart, my pride for the sake of someone else? Has sharing faith gotten into the core of how I love others?
Let me share a somewhat embarrassing story that Jesus made right. Last fall I was growing a new front lawn. I’m a grass guy and I was excited about the progress. Thousands of light green seedlings were off to a good start. I was watching TV when I noticed someone in my front yard. I stood up to see a woman and her dog leaving the yard. The dog had just peed on my lawn. Now when I say on my lawn, I don't mean on the edges or on the corner. I mean she allowed her dog to come right next to my front door and urinated on my brand new lawn!
Immediately, I told myself “Okay, don’t yell. You can’t raise your voice. Love thy neighbor!” All this while the other part of my spirit felt more than a tad violated. I called out to her as she rounded the corner, "Excuse me!"
She popped her head back and came along with her pit bull in tow.
“Did you just allow your dog to pee on my lawn?”
She replied with no hesitation “Yeah, I really don't see what the big deal is . . . It's just grass.”
“Uhhhh…” I drew out the word looking for time and composure to deal with the shock of being told what offense being done to me is not a big deal. “Uh, okay but ya know I just spent a lot of money on this lawn that I just put in. I’m trying to make it nice. And I would really appreciate it in the future if you didn’t allow your dog to go to the bathroom on my lawn.”
With that little nudge she agreed. We said a few more words and went our separate ways.
Later that afternoon, when my engines had cooled off, I felt a penetrating word from the Lord.
“Bruce, you need to apologize.” I knew I needed to do it as sure I knew anything. Even if she was a little rude, her actions did not give me the right to be so judgmental. I was not loving my neighbor. I was not granting mercy the way Jesus gave it to me. I decided to apologize for my tone the next time I saw her. But she moved away before I saw her again, which saddened me. My chance to repair or improve our relationship was gone.
Or so I thought.
A few weeks later, I started getting Amazon packages to my front door that were not mine. They were for this neighbor at her old address. Now that I had her name, I looked her up on social media and contacted her to tell her I was holding her packages and she could pick them up.
She thanked me and asked, “By the way, which one of my old neighbors are you?”
She didn't know it was me! I sheepishly wrote, “I live in the gray cape, right next door.”
“Oh you’re the lawn guy!!”
I answered, “Yes, that’s me. Ya know I’ve been meaning to apologize to you about my attitude that day. I was too animated. I was too caught up in the moment. I am so sorry.”
To which she replied, “Oh no worries. It’s understandable. I get it.”
And thus began the friendship of Bruce and Brittany.
She wrote me back a few hours later to tell me she’d picked up the packages, “You guys are the cutest!! I LOVE your wife!” (Yes, Janet is the best, I’m thinking.) We chatted a bit more and she told me she was moving out west.
I immediately asked, “Would you like for me to pray for your success there?”
She enthusiastically responded, “Yes please!”
Brittany is now in Las Vegas. We are still in touch. It doesn't feel like our tales are over. I hope not at least! I sure have enjoyed loving her and look forward to sharing more of my faith with her.
Now how did that story happen? How did we turn our relationship from being gruff neighbors to being people who care about each other and can even pray for each other?
I’d say on my end we got there because, to coin a Paul-like phrase, “to those I wronged, I made my apology.” (Granted I wish I had not placed myself in a position where I needed to apologize, but I am confident in the grace of Jesus Christ!) Apologies are a tremendous foundation for new and restored relationships. Apologies communicate, “I’m not better than you.” They say, “I want to love. I’m sorry for how I hurt you. Let’s figure this out together.”
If the church in our time is going to make any headway in our mission, perhaps it would be good to start with some apologies. Paul was willing to sacrifice his very life for his countrymen and for nations he knew nothing of. Shouldn’t we at least be willing to sacrifice our lawns? And our pride?
I began this article pointing to how much effort it will require to accomplish our mission. It will require all of our heart. It will require considering others better than ourselves. It will require an admission by the church (to God and perhaps even to the world directly) that we have hurt our relationship with the world, that we have not been a consistent light of kindness and love, and that we need to ask for forgiveness. Now, here is the super news: God is rich and abundant in mercy! He can heal and make relationships where formerly there was none. He has done this for millennia and he can do it in our time as well.
May we respond well to the challenge of our times.