Last week we really kicked off our new series called “Risk.” I thought Ken and Kim did a great job of really challenging us and let’s face it, for a lot of us it is important to have someone love us enough to challenge us to get out of the boat, because it is easy to get comfortable. It is easy to find warmth and security inside the “boat” we call life, and not be willing to take the risk of stepping out into those choppy waters and walking towards Jesus. Ken’s point last week was that the real danger is staying in the boat, and that was a fantastic point.
But can we just be honest here…that’s just Ken right? I mean guys like that just have a different personality than me right? I’m not like these guys at MRC who keep thinking of ways to help others find Jesus. I mean, I hear them talking of the lost, and I see it in scripture but I’m just not wired like them. Do you think this way? I think this is a box that many people can put Ken, or myself, or just MRC in general in…the box is labelled something like this “The Passionate for Others or Crazy Focus and Big Hearted Box.” Here’s what is so interesting, by putting me in that box or Ken in that box, or by labelling MRC that way a couple things happen. The first is you can stay inside your boat right? It’s an easy way to justify NOT serving the Kingdom of God…because you don’t fit the personality profile. Here’s the second thing you do when you slide us into that box. You lose sight of the fact that we are people with feelings and insecurities and emotions too. That the men and women who do step out of the boat and jump into the mission of Christ they understand the dangers that you see too! You see this is an important place for me to start with you today, because there is something you need to understand about someone who has a passion for helping people far from God find God. That passion isn’t a personality thing. The love in their hearts is not something a human being is born with, it is something that comes to them through their relationship with God. This is something we need to understand, this whole passion that forms in the hearts of a disciple of Jesus has formed because of the love of God in us! This is not something that can be justified away by saying my personality does or doesn’t fit the mold and how do I know this? Because I know that God loves you. Check this out.
1 John 4:16 God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. 17 This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day — our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. 18 There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life — fear of death, fear of judgment — is one not yet fully formed in love. 19 We, though, are going to love — love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first. 20 If anyone boasts, “I love God,” and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won’t love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can’t see? 21 The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both. MSG
Do you see it? As we walk in relationship with God we live a life of love. So according to the Bible it’s not a personality thing but a love thing that allows us to care for others, to step out of the boats of our lives, and be willing to take risks in the name of those who need to know God. This is how the Holy Spirit is seen clearly on this Earth, it’s through us human beings living a life of love. When you show selfless love to another, you are revealing God on this Earth. Remember Jesus told us that we simply need to do four words right? Love God and love others. Now I know a lot of people who say “Sam, I struggle with the loving others part of Jesus’ big command. I can do the loving God part but I struggle with the loving others part.” Here’s what I will promise you. The more time you spend loving God, what matters to God will over time will matter to you too. Loving God includes loving people, and the more consumed by God’s love you are, the less you will matter and the more others will. I promise you.
Today this series is really going to shift into a focus on the importance of walking in a relationship with God. One of the most intimate and close parts of this relationship is found in prayer. Communicating with God, talking and maybe more importantly listening. I know there are many of us today who think they can’t pray for one reason or another, whether you don’t feel worthy, or you don’t think God hears you the same as he hears someone else…but here is the truth. You are loved by God and God wants to hear from you and God wants to speak to you just like he wants to speak and communicate with me or any other human. Why? Because He loves you that much.
Dennis Kinlaw is one of my favorite authors. If you remember we have already gone through one of his books here at MRC called “The Mind of Christ.” Well one of the main resources for this series is another one of his books that has really meant a lot to me called “Prayer – Bearing the world as Jesus Did.” In that books it starts with him being interviewed and there is a statement that I just can’t get out of my head. The interviewer asked Dennis Kinlaw a great question. He asked this, “In all your years of studying scripture and walking in a relationship with God, what is the most amazing or shocking part of all of it.” What a great question to ask one of the better theologians of our time! It’s Dennis Kinlaw’s response that really grabbed my attention. He said the most staggering thought in all his time in scripture and walking with God is that “the Eternal God-Father, Son, and Holy Spirit has invited me to enter into a conversation with that exclusive group!”
When you think about that idea it should absolutely blow your mind. We get to know the God of the Universe personally! How incredible is that!?!?!?
You know, for most of us I don’t think that is something we understand or even care about especially when we first find God, or when we first get saved and ask Him into our lives. Frankly I don’t think it’s really on the radar at that time when we are hurting and in need of help. We just all seem to get to that place in our lives where there is enough hurt, and enough pain, and well just enough weight on us from life that we get to a spot where we realize that doing life our way isn’t working and that we need God in our lives. I often picture God walking with us even as we turn our back on Him and try to muscle through life our way while he lovingly just adds a little more weight, and then a little more weight until we can’t do it on our own anymore and we turn back to Him. In that moment we just know we need His help, but something really beautiful happens along the way. It’s relationship. It’s intimacy with our Heavenly Father. It’s an inner conversation that can happen 24 hours day, 7 days a week! You see God wants us to be a part of His life! That is what salvation really is but He also calls us and gives us the amazing privilege of being partners with Him in His work!
2 Corinthians 5:20 We are Christ’s ambassadors. God is using us to speak to you: we beg you, as though Christ himself were here pleading with you, receive the love he offers you-be reconciled to God. 21 For God took the sinless Christ and poured into him our sins. Then, in exchange, he poured God’s goodness into us! 6:1 As God’s partners, we beg you not to toss aside this marvelous message of God’s great kindness. TLB
So God loves us enough to want us to be part of His life which is what we call salvation. God also calls us and uses us to speak to others…to love others and when we do, we are revealing God in a very visible and touchable way to people here on this Earth. We are God’s partners in His Kingdom work! This takes us back to the whole, ‘why do I go to a church that takes the focus off of me and puts it on others who don’t know God?’ –thing. It’s because we are Christ’s ambassadors. We are God’s partners in this work and we know it!
Now there is a problem with this whole idea of us caring for other people. This kingdom work that God has invited us into and do you know what it is? It’s us people. Is it really in our human nature to care about someone else more than you care about yourself? No. Think about it, what is at the very center of most all of our focus…it’s us! Think about how opposite of human nature it is to actually care about someone else more than you care about yourself. I love how people react to me talking about how simple Jesus made all of Christianity. Remember what he told us to do? We were talking about this earlier…it’s those pesky four words again.
Matthew 22:37 Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ 38 This is the most important, the first on any list. 39 But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ 40 These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.” MSG
Here’s the thing, Jesus says let’s take all the other stuff away and says live out these four words…Love God, Love Others. Well the loving God part seems doable, but the loving others thing, that can be a whole other thing right? Well this is what is so amazing about the way God works in us. He knows you better than you know you. He knows who you are and what drives you. He knows how selfish and self-centered we humans are, yet we are still his answer to helping others find Him! And how does he accomplish this? Well that sends us right back to that mind blowing invitation that God has called us into! God has invited you into a relationship with Him. This is amazing…and also so important and here is why. Something really interesting happens when you are in a truly loving relationship with someone. Do you know what that is? What matters to someone you love over time begins to matter to you doesn’t it? So how many of you married someone who is super into a football team? Maybe their team is playing today and your whole family is pumped for it. You never cared about football before, but over time here you were wearing that Eagles, or Cowboys, or Steelers jersey too! Guys, prior to marriage what did your apartment or place of living look like? You had a couch, maybe one pillow on your bed, and if you were really living large you had some large wire spools for end tables. Once you met your special someone and got married, all of a sudden you had curtains in the windows rather than old bath towels! You didn’t know how excited you could get for the trip to Bed, Bath, and Beyond did you? Guys all of a sudden how the house smelled became important to you didn’t it? What matters to someone you love matters to you. My son gets really into soccer and next thing I know I’m coaching travel soccer! What matters to those I care about matters to me and here’s the deal. As we walk with God, as we spend time with Him, as we communicate through prayer and develop a relationship with Him, what matters to God will matter to you too! This is why I often tell people who struggle with the whole loving others thing, to just focus on the loving God part and the rest will just come together as you walk in relationship with God. It’s not a personality thing, it’s a love thing. As we walk in relationship with God what matters to God begins to matter to us.
There is an awesome example of a man who walked in a relationship with God and over time we can see his focus shift from himself to others. His name is Abraham, and he really becomes the first person who stands up for other people in prayer. This is something we call intercession. It is a pretty amazing story from a pretty amazing man and you can read about his story in the book of Genesis. It’s also where we see God’s plan to redeem the world through people really start to unfold. So here’s what is happening in the story. God visits Abraham and a real friendship develops. God comes to Abraham and hangs out with him, eats with him, and explains that Abraham and his wife Sarah are going to have a son that the entire world would eventually be saved through! What was their reaction? They laugh, and do you know why? It’s because Abraham is 99 years old and Sarah is 89 at this time, and when Isaac is born they are 100 and 90 years old! Should we expect anything less from God? He wants to redeem the world and will and he does that through Abraham’s family tree when Jesus arrives years later. The beauty of this is it all starts through Isaac, Abraham son who is born to Him and his wife Sarah in their old age…and absolute miracle birth that would have made no sense to anyone!
So a friendship has developed between God and Abraham, and as God is leaving this moment something really special happens which is where I want to pick this story up with you today…
Genesis 18:16 When the men got up to leave, they set off for Sodom. Abraham walked with them to say good-bye. 17 Then GOD said, “Shall I keep back from Abraham what I’m about to do? 18 Abraham is going to become a large and strong nation; all the nations of the world are going to find themselves blessed through him. 19 Yes, I’ve settled on him as the one to train his children and future family to observe GOD’s way of life, live kindly and generously and fairly, so that GOD can complete in Abraham what he promised him.” 20 GOD continued, “The cries of the victims in Sodom and Gomorrah are deafening; the sin of those cities is immense. 21 I’m going down to see for myself, see if what they’re doing is as bad as it sounds. Then I’ll know.” MSG
So check out what is going on here. God is letting Abraham in on his burden. Look at verse 17, I love this. God is allowing Abraham in on what He is about to do. Some of which is very positive he really unpacks what Abraham and his family will be, but He is also sharing his burden for two cities that God is about to go and end. Sodom and Gomorrah are great cities but they are full of sin, and people who are being abused, victimized, and God is going to Sodom and Gomorrah to end those cities and all of those people.
Genesis 18:22 The men set out for Sodom, but Abraham stood in GOD’s path, blocking his way. 23 Abraham confronted him, “Are you serious? Are you planning on getting rid of the good people right along with the bad? 24 What if there are fifty decent people left in the city; will you lump the good with the bad and get rid of the lot? 25 Wouldn’t you spare the city for the sake of those fifty innocents? I can’t believe you’d do that, kill off the good and the bad alike as if there were no difference between them. Doesn’t the Judge of all the Earth judge with justice?” MSG
So God’s burden, his heavy heart for this great city has become Abraham’s burden…and what do we see there in verse 22. Abraham is now standing up for Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham is interceding for all of these people who will die if God follows through on what He feels He must do. This is the first moment like this you find in your Bible, one man standing up for so many. What a moment! Abraham standing in God’s path. This really is the origin story of the ultimate Biblical Principal:
Huge Biblical Principle- a person in relationship with God may be the means of salvation for someone far from God! One person’s welfare ultimately depends on another.
So as the story goes we have Abraham standing between God and the destruction of these two great cities, and he begins a negotiation with God. Abraham starts with 50 people and says God if you can find 50 righteous God loving people in the cities please, save the city and God agrees! Abraham keeps going and gets God all the way down to 10, if there is just 10 God fearing, God loving people in the cities please Lord save the cities and God agrees. So 2 cities full of people are being protected by one person and his intercession with God. Abraham is standing up for Sodom and Gomorrah in prayer. Here’s a really important thing for us to see today! Abraham is doing the opposite of what human nature says to do. He is more concerned with others than he is with himself right now! He isn’t praying for himself and all that he can have and up until this point a lot, basically all of his conversations with God were about him…but here we see Abraham praying for others. This begins a pattern that unfolds all through the Bible and life today. One person stands up for (intercedes for) another person, this is how each person finds salvation, this story plays out again and again and it is the story you are invited into today! Think about the very center of everything we believe! We find that our salvation rests on THAT ONE other person right? It’s Jesus! Jesus redeems us and now his saving power can flow through us who have been redeemed onto others who need that same saving power of Christ! Jesus makes this extremely clear in John 17 when he is praying for his disciples and all of us who know Him…check this out!
John 17:20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: 23 I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. NIV
Jesus prays for his disciples, and those who will someday know Him through their witness! And here’s the thing, prayer is such a massive part of people coming to know Jesus in a real way! Without prayer, communication with God, relationship with God…we just wouldn’t care for the things God cares about…and what does He care about? God cares about His children coming to know Him in a real way! As we pray and walk in relationship with Him what matters to God matters to us! Do you see it?
Listen we live in a fractured and broken world. A world full of sin…and what is at the very center of sin, self-centeredness. God understands that and still takes us humans who struggle to care for others more than ourselves and says, they are my plan to help others experience salvation. I find this incredible. We can love others, and it starts with loving God. As we love God and walk in relationship with him the Holy Spirit places love in us. Paul says this in Romans 5…
Romans 5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. NIV
How beautiful is that…through relationship with God we receive the love of God which is poured out into us through God’s spirit. Wow!
I really wanted you to see something today, and it really started with what Ken was talking about last week with the whole idea of risk. Why would Ken care about someone far from Christ in Dillsburg, or Gettysburg, or wherever? Why leave the safety of the boat to do anything? I mean as a person it doesn’t make much sense because to us people, we matter more to us than others do. So we can try to justify these things by saying well I don’t have a bold personality, or I’m smarter than someone who doesn’t see the risk…but that isn’t it at all. You see someone who is walking with God and loves God ends up caring about what God cares about. What matters to God matters to us because we love Him and walk in relationship with Him! It really all started with Abraham. God literally shared his burden with his friend Abraham, and do you know what…Your Heavenly Father shares his burdens with you too. God loves us so much, and thinks so much of us that he actually includes us in His plans to help advance his kingdom! We are so important to God that he would actually invite us to join Him in redeeming this broken and fallen world! That should absolutely blow you mind!
So I want you to think about something. I think for a lot of us we don’t consider ourselves “prayer warriors” or people like Abraham who could intercede (stand up for someone) in prayer but again, you have every ability to talk to God just like Abraham did. And here is what is even more interesting your prayers are essential. I think for a lot of us when we think about being super spiritual we think of the great preachers of our time, or the great prophets of old, but I want you to see something here that is often missed by many who get really excited for the “Big Spiritual Stuff.” The first picture of our human role in God’s kingdom is not one of preaching to football stadiums full of people. It isn’t one of podcasts, and megachurches…the first picture we get of our human role in God’s kingdom is a picture of intercession. Abraham standing up for two cities full of people. Literally standing between God and other people’s eternal destiny!
Why do we miss that? Well I will tell you why, it’s because praying for someone else doesn’t land you in the front page of the local paper. It’s not going to call attention to yourself or advance your name to legendary status. I can’t think that too many people in Sodom and Gomorrah were ever even aware of what Abraham was doing for them…but what He was doing was so essential. This is why prayer is often over looked. It’s often something done behind the scenes. It doesn’t feel exciting it’s more ordinary. So we often don’t feel like world changers sitting at our dining room table standing up for someone in prayer…BUT YOU ARE actually changing the world!
So I want you to think about your life today. Think about the people around you. Think about those you care about who are far from God. As I pray for us here in a minute, think about who you are in relationship with that needs your prayer today? Who needs Jesus in a real way? Who needs someone to stand up for them spiritually that you live with, care about, work with, go to school with, or just pass by at the coffee shop in the morning? I want you thinking about this as you leave here today.
If the welfare of two great cities rested in the hands of Abraham, whose welfare rests in our hands today?
That person, that place, that area that is in your mind and on your heart right now is the area that you can make a difference in by standing up in prayer and caring for them as much as God does. God is inviting you to something more, and it starts by sharing his burden with you because what matters to someone you care about, well over time, those things matter to you…and when it comes to God’s kingdom work, the stakes are too high not to engage. So who is it? What or where is it? Whose eternal destiny rests in your hands today?