Archive for November, 2008

Giving Thanks

November 24, 2008

Title: Giving Thanks

Text: Philippians 4:6-7

Time: November 23rd, 2003

Around Thanksgiving every year we remember the familiar scene of the Pilgrims and the Indians meeting together for the very first Thanksgiving. The Pilgrims were thanking God for the many blessings they had received, including the Indians, in their thanksgivings to God, because without the providential help of the Indians it’s doubtful the colonists could have survived that first year. They thanked God for what they had and put aside their complaints about what they didn’t have. As Christians, they were probably aware of this biblical principle — taking stock in what one has, giving thanks for what one has, and not just focusing on one’s problems. We are approaching Thanksgiving Day and it’s a good time to take stock in what we have instead of focusing on what we don’t have. The Pilgrims had to do that, give thanks for what they had, instead of feeling bad about what they didn’t have. Compared to Europe, the early settlers had very little in the way of a standard of living in the New World at the beginning. It was a hostile land, and many, many people died en route and shortly after they landed. It was a hard life, not for the timid at heart. So the Pilgrims got together to celebrate and give thanks for what God had provided for them. It’s a great tradition, and it’s biblical, it’s in the Bible. The Apostle Paul teaches us under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7. On this first day of Thanksgiving week, I’d like to unpack Paul’s teaching on thanksgiving this morning and demonstrate how we can always be thankful no matter how hard life is or how many problems we face. It’s really the key to contentment in life, thanking God for what we have, refusing to dwell on what we don’t have, or what is wrong or a problem in our life. Learning to give thanks to God can change our lives and revolutionize our spiritual lives. The Pilgrims had to learn how to survive in the wilderness, they had to learn how to face difficulties with patience and faith, they had to learn to ask the Lord for his blessings, but just as important, they had to learn to thank the Lord for his blessings. It’s a pattern for our lives as well. But before we hear what the Apostle Paul has to teach, would you pray with me and ask the Spirit’s inspiration? (pray). Let’s look at three things about thanksgiving. (more…)

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Be Content

November 23, 2008

Title: Be Content

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Text: Hebrews 13:5

Date: November 23rd, 2008

Once again we arrive at the holiday season, beginning in November in just a few days with Thanksgiving, then Christmas in December, and finally, New Year’s in January. I love the holiday season because it’s a reminder of how good God is and how blessed we are again being under his love and care for another year. Today, I’d like to talk about thanksgiving and being content, about thanking God for what we have instead of complaining about what we don’t have. The passage I came across to remind us of this is Hebrews 13:5-6, “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?’” What a great reminder on the Sunday before Thanksgiving Day – we need to stop and remember what we have and thank God for his many blessings in our lives. We also need to stop complaining and worrying so much about what we don’t have, or what we could have if we only had more money or a better job, etc. We need to learn contentment in life. Finally, it’s a good time of the year to remember that as we look to God he will provide for all of our needs. The news reports today all say that the U.S. economy is in recession with the possibility of economic depression if one or more of the automakers collapse, if the banks don’t start recovering from all the bad debt that’s still in the banking system, if the housing market doesn’t pick up. Many people today feel that the economy is in shambles or at least that’s the perception. But it’s relative. This Thanksgiving, we need to keep things in perspective. The country we live in is still the greatest economy in the world. When we say we are suffering an economic downturn, we need to remember that our negatives are still a lot better than most of the world’s positive times. I wonder what the rest of the world thinks of Americans complaining about how bad things are when from the rest of the world’s viewpoint things still look pretty rosy for citizens of the U.S. We need to get a perspective on things and thank God for the blessings of our lives instead of focusing on the problems or negative things. That’s what Thanksgiving is for – thanking God for our blessings. What blessings are you experiencing today? Don’t say, “I haven’t any blessings at all, just problems.” No. You’ve got blessings, even if you are suffering disappointments and set backs today. It may take a little review to remember the blessings that you are experiencing, but that’s what Thanksgiving is for, reviewing, remembering, and then rejoicing in our blessings. That’s what the Pilgrims did in the New World. If you remember history, the Pilgrims had very little of the luxuries of life we experience today. Life was very basic for them – survival in the wilderness. Basic housing such as log cabins, simple food cooked over an open fire, warm clothing and shoes, wood heat for the fireplace in the winter, etc. The first Thanksgiving was thanking God for the necessities of life. Can we learn to thank God for the necessities of life instead of worrying about what we don’t have that we want? Let’s hear God’s Word and what it says on the subject of being thankful. (more…)

Don’t Worry, Pray!

November 21, 2008

Title: Don’t Worry, Pray!

Text: Philippians 4:6-7

Time: November 21st, 2004

Every year around this time we celebrate the holiday called Thanksgiving. It started as a remembrance of the early settlers here from Europe who were just thankful to be alive, to survive, after a long voyage by ship over the ocean, and then surviving the wilderness in the New World with the help of the Indians. Well, you know the story. It’s a good holiday because it causes us to think about the many things we have to be thankful for. I know that at times it’s hard to be thankful, especially when everything seems to go wrong in your life, but believe it or not there are plenty of things to be thankful for, no matter how many problems you are experiencing. You may be going through hard times right now, and even if you aren’t, you will in the future face times of difficulties and problems. If you know how to give thanks even in the midst of difficulties you have learned one of the secrets of life. Now thanksgiving is a great time of the year because it teaches us again to give thanks, to count our blessings, to focus on what we have, not what we don’t have. I remember the movie Apollo 13, and how all of a sudden the spaceship and the crew suddenly began to experience problems all at once. There were explosions, parts flying off the spaceship, and well, it was bad, really bad. That’s when one of the astronauts says those famous words, “Houston we have a problem.” Remember that movie? Remember that phrase? But believe it or not those astronauts made it back to earth safely because they began to focus on what they still had and made the best of things rather than focus on all their problems thousands of miles in space. And that’s what Thanksgiving teaches us each year – to focus on what we have, not what we don’t have. In the movie, after all the problems started happening one of the guys said calmly, “Ok, let’s review things. What do we have that is working here?” That’s a good perspective to remember in your life, even when things, especially when things are going wrong, “What do I have that is working in my life?” That is exactly what the Apostle Paul teaches in the New Testament in Philippians 4:6-7, in different words. Let me read it to you: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” I’d like to say a few things about this passage because I believe that if we can remember it in whatever circumstances we are facing in life, things will go better. (more…)

Thanksgiving

November 20, 2008

Title: Thanksgiving

Text: Philippians 4:6-7

Time: November 23rd, 2003

This (video clip) is a dramatic scene from the movie Apollo 13 where the spacecraft develops all kinds of problems, thousand and thousands of miles from earth. The scene shows the ground control team working on the problems, and notice what is said, “Work the problem. What is working on the spacecraft? What do we have to work with?” They don’t know it but that is a biblical principle, taking stock in what we have, giving thanks for what we have, and not just focusing on our problems. We are approaching Thanksgiving Day and it’s a good time to take stock in what we have instead of focusing on what we don’t have. The Pilgrims had to do that, give thanks for what they had, instead of feeling bad about what they didn’t have. Compared to Europe, the settlers had very little in the way of a standard of living in the New World at the beginning. It was a hostile land, and many, many people died en route and shortly after they landed. It was a hard life, not for the timid at heart. So the Pilgrims got together to celebrate and give thanks for what God had provided for them. It’s a great tradition, and it’s biblical, it’s in the Bible. The Apostle Paul teaches us under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7. On this first day of Thanksgiving week, I’d like to unpack Paul’s teaching on thanksgiving this morning and demonstrate how we can always be thankful no matter how hard life is or how many problems we face. It’s really the key to contentment in life, thanking God for what we have, refusing to dwell on what we don’t have, or what is wrong or a problem in our life. Learning to give thanks to God can change our lives and revolutionize our spiritual lives. The crew of Apollo 13 is alive today because the team working on the ground refused to give up hope, but worked to overcome the obstacles of rescuing the spaceship through a combination of building on what they had, that is giving thanks, and working creatively on what they didn’t have. It’s a pattern for our lives as well. But before we hear what Paul has to teach, would you pray with me and ask the Spirit’s inspiration? (pray). Let’s look at three things about thanksgiving. (more…)

What is Church? — A Few Thoughts, Part II

November 18, 2008

Title: What is Church? Part II

Text: Matthew 22:36-40,

Time: September 24th, 2005

Last week I gave a message based on a powerful experience God used to show me how praise and preaching are foundations of what church is all about. I talked about how praise is our heart expressing thankfulness and gratitude to God and him acknowledging it by blessing us deep down in our soul. I then talked about how preaching is God expressing his word to us personally through the preacher, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit. So then, when we go to church we encounter or experience the Living God fresh every week — and that changes our lives every week. I didn’t say this, but that is our vertical relationship with God, up and down relationship: our prayer and praise going up to God, and God’s word to us coming down to our spirit. That’s vertical activity happening in church, and it must happen or else we are all wasting our time, and our souls will remain empty. I feel God is pleased at us learning, remembering and experiencing this important vertical truth about church, but there is something else I didn’t talk about which the Lord God wouldn’t let me omit. I probably would have omitted it, but God wouldn’t let me, and through an experience that occurred last week, again God taught me, and now all of us, another foundational truth. There is a horizontal dimension to church that must exist right along with the vertical dimension — it’s the human-to-human relationships in the church community. Through a series of unfortunate circumstances and misunderstandings that happened last week, some people had their feelings hurt and some walls of resentment, bitterness and unforgiveness developed. Due to insensitivity and carelessness on my part, there developed some hard feelings and some walls developed between people. It was nothing big, nothing major. It wasn’t the thing in itself that was at issue, it was how people reacted and responded and my attitude that caused the problem. But the end result was the perfect peace, love, and harmony that should characterize a church was broken. Now we all know about this kind of thing because it happens in our homes, at work, between friends, family, neighbors, relatives, marriages, and everywhere else people interact with one another. Relationships are the hardest things to fix, and once fixed the hardest things to keep fixed, because unlike machines, relationships can be broken in thousands of ways over thousands of reasons. Your car engine can be fixed and then not breakdown for years, but relationships can break down the next hour, the next minute, because they are so much more complicated than machines. We see relationships breaking down all over the place in society, so much today we become used to it and consider it normal when relationships fall apart. That’s what we see in the world, but that is not how things should be in the church, because the church is a supernatural community made up of not just people but of God. Does the Living God dwell within his church, or is that just a pretty poetic thought? Is Jesus head of the church, or is that a symbolic truth not to be taken literally? People want to know, because if the church is just like the world, if people offend and are offended, join and break up the way marriages do today, the way friendships do today, if the mess the world is in is the same mess we see in the church, then where is God? Or if he’s here, what difference does he make if the church is the same as the world in respect to relationships? No. The church, where we encounter and experience the Living God, as I explained last week, is the place where we can also experience supernatural community as well. And the first thing we must do to experience the difference God makes in relationships in the church community is decide we will not settle for what the world experiences. We will settle for nothing less than what God has intended for us in communion with Him and each other. That’s the first thing. We will not settle for the broken state of relationships the world settles for. We will settle for nothing less than the supernatural community marked by love and truth that Jesus brought first to his 12 disciples, then to the early church, and now available for us today if we commit ourselves to having it. Let me explain. (more…)

What is Church? — A Few Thoughts

November 15, 2008

Title: What is Church? — A Few Thoughts

Text: Mark 11:15-17,

Time: September 17th, 2005

This message was not something I planned to give. In fact, I was working on something entirely different this week, but because of some very powerful things that happened this week I wanted to share with you some very important things I’ve learned and that have really effected me deeply. All this week I was reflecting on what church is. What is it that we are trying to do when we come together for church, here or any other place? Every Sunday there are hundreds of churches in Jamestown and thousands of churches in the United States and millions of churches all around the world that meet. What is it that these churches are trying to accomplish? What is the point of church? Not what can church be used for, not what can happen or what is possible for churches to do, what is church supposed to do, what is church supposed to be? Because I have a feeling that if church is what it’s supposed to be, people will be drawn to it, not all people, but some people. We all know that in Europe hardly anyone ever goes into the doors of a church. I think the average attendance in church is 5%, which means 95% of all Europeans simply skip church. In the United States I think the latest statistic is that maybe 15-25% of the people attend church on Sunday, higher than Europe but declining every year. More and more people are simply skipping church, simply not bothering to go. Now is there a God? Yes. Does he have a church on earth for the benefit of his people? Yes. Then what’s the problem? Why is it that people are not finding God in the very place where God has provided for them to find his presence? I have a feeling that if the church would be what it’s supposed to be God’s children would do what they are supposed to do. Now why have church? One answer is that we should give to God the honor, recognition, and glory He is due. After all he is our Creator, we are the creation, we owe him that much to acknowledge Him. But that’s church based on duty, obligation, what we ought to do. The early Christians did church on the basis of desire, what they wanted to do, what was a delight to them, not out of duty. But today, much of church is done out of religious duty, obligation, what we ought to do rather than out of desire, what we want to do. But this week I spent a lot of time praying and reflecting on what is church and why have it and what is it that is supposed to happen in it. And God showed me powerfully some things that have changed me, and have made a big impact on me already. He didn’t just show me something; he hit me with it deep down in my soul. This last week I’ve gone through one of the most powerfully moving spiritual experiences I’ve ever had. I met with worship leader Randy Anderson on Friday and started sharing this stuff. I could hardly speak because God was interrupting things by causing me to cry all over the place! That’s a good sign, that’s a positive sign. God was moving in my heart, not just in my head; in my soul, not just my intellect. That’s how I know this stuff is real. I want to share with you what God shared with me because it has everything to do with what we are trying to do here at the church. Bear with me because I don’t know what God will do or might do with this material. I have a few passages from the Bible that I’ll teach from and then comment on. (more…)

Experiencing God: Preparing the Way

November 13, 2008

Title: Experiencing God: Preparing the way

Text: Mark 1:1-3

Time: September 1st, 2005

In the past two or three weeks God has powerfully shown me some truths that will influence my ministry for the rest of my life, and hopefully influence other people as well. The first really big truth that God has shown me dramatically in the past few weeks is that church is for the purpose of helping us experience God. Church is supposed to be a place where people can go to experience the living God, it’s supposed to be a place where people can go to worship and praise and experience the living God, it’s suppose to be a place where people can go to hear the voice of God deep down in their souls through the teaching of God’s Word, it’s supposed to be a place where people can go to experience God through crying out to him in prayer, and it’s supposed to be a place where people can go to experience God through beautiful loving human relationships that help and don’t hinder us in our God relationship. Now why is it that most churches aren’t doing very well in helping people experience God? Because typically there are man-made barriers that exist in churches that block our soul’s relationship with God, and there are also spiritual bridges that need to be built by churches that just aren’t in place but need to be in place to help our souls connect to God. God showed me that as a leader in the church it is my responsibility to remove any man-made barriers in the church that separate the soul from God and also to build any needed spiritual bridges that are necessary for a soul to connect to God. If church leadership can do this, people can likely experience God – maybe. Because the responsibility for connecting a person to God is not solely on the shoulders of the church, it is primarily the responsibility of the individual person. Why? Because the biggest barrier separating a soul from God is not the man-made barriers of church, but the barrier of personal sin. Now it’s the church’s responsibility to take away anything in the church hindering people, and add anything that would help a person experience God. But even if there were a perfect church and did the positive adding and negative subtracting perfectly, people would still not experience God unless they themselves were willing to do their part. Even if a perfect pastor led a perfect church, it would not be enough. Even if there was perfect worship led by a perfect worship leader; even if there were perfect prayers led by a perfect prayer leader; even if there were perfect sermons led by a perfect preacher; and finally, even if there was perfect fellowship in a perfect church, this still wouldn’t be enough for people to experience God — unless and only if they were willing to do what they must do on their end. What is it that a person must do to experience God? Attending a good church can help, a good pastor can help, a good worship leader and a good worship team can help, good prayers at the church help, and good fellowship helps, but all of these aren’t enough to get a person experiencing God. What must a person do to experience God? He or she must be willing to individually remove all personal barriers between their soul and God, and he or she must be willing to build — in as much as possible — any personal spiritual bridges from their soul to God that are needed. And then after this preparation, pray that God visits them with His power and presence. In past messages I focused on what we as a church must do to help people experience God, now today I’d like to turn to what each of us as individuals must do to experience God, either in an initial experience like conversion, or with an on-going experience as in Christian maturity. (more…)

Jesus Contradicts Contemporary Culture

November 12, 2008

Title: Jesus Contradicts Contemporary Culture

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Text: Matthew 9:9-13

Date: November 16thth, 2008

Last week I talked about how frankly Jesus spoke about calling people “sinners” and how blunt he was in labeling sinners “sick” in their sins and also how directly he claimed to be the cure for sin-sick sinners. I also mentioned how out-of-step this language is with our modern, secular world today. People don’t talk very much about sin and sinners. Instead, they talk about “bad choices” and “people who make bad choices” but very little about sin and sinners. Even in churches, I noted, there is very little direct talk about sin and sinners – or at least accusing people directly of sinning and being sinners. This kind of language is hardly heard anywhere anymore today. But I didn’t go into an explanation as to why the language of sin, guilt and moral responsibility is hardly ever spoken today in our modern, secular world. Yes, I talked about the use of psychology and psychiatry to describe sin and guilt, how these two fields usually describe sin and guilt in value-neutral ways instead of assessing blame. I spoke of how Christians and the Christian church must not give themselves over to using the language of psychology instead of the language of sin because it actually changes the meaning of the original concepts and presents an entirely different message. If we translate the gospel into the language of modern therapy we will have no sin, no sinners, no guilt, nothing to confess or repent, no judgment to fear, no punishment to avoid, and ultimately no need of a savior to save us from all of these things. That’s how profound and detrimental is the shift from the language of sin to the language of therapy in the context of the Christian church. We must resist doing it for the sake of the gospel, for the sake of lost souls who need salvation, not just healing. Today, the language of psychology treats all soul problems as hurts in need of healing, but the biblical language of sin treats all moral problems as sin in need of confession, repentance and forgiveness. There is a huge difference between dealing with sin and dealing with a hurt. That is not to say that everyone is not hurt or wounded – everyone is to some extent. But that is a separate thing from everyone is a sinner in need of salvation. The process of being saved from sin is different from the process of being healed of hurts. Sin is an offense against God. Sin leads to the judgment of God, and then ultimately to condemnation and punishment from God. Unless the sin process is interrupted by confession, repentance and forgiveness it ends in ultimate death – eternal separation from God, the damnation of the soul. The process of being healed, on the other hand, is different. Being hurt or wounded or suffering from some inner imbalance is a problem within us. Hurts lead to disordered lives, or in the ultimate case, disordered society. The solution for hurts is healing. We find inner resolution of our emotional disorder. This is entirely different from the process of salvation from sin, in which God’s justice is satisfied over the resolution of our sins through the blood of Jesus. But the question is, “Why is our modern, secular world so opposed to using the traditional, biblical language of sin in describing the condition of man?” And, “Why are so many church teachers and leaders switching to the language of psychology and offering salvation through emotional healing rather than salvation from sin through confession and repentance and faith in Christ?” Well, the second question is easier to answer than the first – church leaders are copying the world in an effort to be relevant; they are willing to subtly change the gospel message in order to catch the ear of modern people who wouldn’t normally listen to them using the traditional, biblical language of sin and salvation. That’s wrong, but why is the modern world insisting the language of sin be eliminated and the language of psychology be used instead? Using Matthew 9:12-13 again, let me try to explain why? I’ll make three observations. (more…)

Jesus Calls Sinners Sick

November 9, 2008

Title: Jesus Calls Sinners Sick

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Text: Matthew 9:9-13

Date: November 9th, 2008

I just read a study done on how modern pastors and preachers present the Story of the Prodigal Son in the New Testament when they speak on Sunday mornings to their church congregations. The study revealed that in times past, church teachers would outline the passage and then talk about the different ideas found there, like the son’s rebellion, his wild and sinful living, his crisis moment, his humble confession and repentance, his return to his father. Then application would be made in respect to how we all are like the son, yet how eager God the Father is to forgive and take us back. But today, so says the study, pastors are hesitant to talk about the son’s sin and guilt, or about his confession and repentance. Instead, preachers today psychoanalyze the story and present it in terms of human psychology. The son feels trapped at home, seeks to strike out on his own, makes a break with his father, and pursues his own destiny – all value-neutral actions. Then, the son experiences a crisis, he realizes that his choices have not led to self-fulfillment, so he returns home to reunite with his father and family – again, all value-neutral descriptions of the son’s actions. The study revealed that modern pastors were loath to talk too much about real sin or real guilt. They were cautious to not assess blame to the son, but rather tried to explain his choices as “mistakes” or “bad choices” or “failures” but never to use the traditional language of sin or guilt. The study showed that because the culture we now live in doesn’t use the traditional language of sin, neither do many or most pastors when they present the Prodigal Son story to contemporary audiences in church. Instead, the language of psychology is substituted for the language of sin. This is supposed to be a more relevant way to teach the meaning of the story, says the study, because the traditional language of sin and guilt is highly offensive today to most contemporary listeners. To present the Story of the Prodigal Son in terms of his own sin and guilt and selfishness comes across as highly judgmental and harsh. Today, the language of psychology is used to describe the son’s actions because it seems to show more compassion and sensitivity towards the son, rather than the harsh and hard language of guilt and blame. But the study also revealed that something profound is lost in translation when the Story of the Prodigal Son is presented in psychological terms rather than in terms of moral responsibility – the whole point of a gracious father receiving back his prodigal son is minimized, it is trivialized, since if the son’s actions were not really wrong, if he hadn’t really acted selfishly, if he hadn’t really sinned against his father, then his father really forgiving him loses its meaning. And if this key point of the story loses its meaning, so too does the point of application to us lose its meaning also. The point of the biblical story is that just as the father in the story forgives, so too God the Father receives back repentant sinners who come to him. But if we as sinners really haven’t done anything wrong, if we’ve just experienced a crisis of self-esteem, an identity crisis, then God’s great grace is minimized, trivialized. Our real need to confess and repent of real sin for offending a holy and righteous God is undermined. The whole gospel meaning is affected. Instead of saving us from our sins, God is merely healing us of our hurts. That’s how much preaching in churches is presented today – God can heal your hurts, rather than the truly biblical picture of God who saves us from judgment for our sins. So in order to correct this modern tendency to see everything in psychological terms, let’s look at what Jesus really says and the language he uses to describe how he saves sinners. And who are sinners? Everyone — you and me. Three points stand out. (more…)

Jesus Calls a Sinner

November 7, 2008

Title: Jesus Calls a Sinner

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Text: Matthew 9:9-13

Date: November 2nd, 2008

Today, we continue in our study of the Book of Matthew, with chapter nine, verses nine through thirteen, in a section that describes Jesus calling a sinner – Matthew the tax collector. Now we probably wouldn’t label a representative of the IRS as a sinner today; we might not like him because he wants to take our hard-earned money from us, but we wouldn’t judge him a sinner. But back in ancient times, the tax collector was a corrupt individual who got rich off collecting taxes for the occupying political power by charging people more than was required and then pocketing the difference. So in this sense, in the ancient world tax collectors were thieves committing legally sanctioned robbery. Now what really bothered the Jews with a person like Matthew the tax collector was he stole money from his own people, his own ethnic nationality. It was bad enough the Romans collected taxes, but here was a fellow Jew collecting taxes for the Romans and also cheating his own people out of their money. So we can understand why the Jews saw Matthew and his kind as sinners. And then of course, Matthew was a sinner because with the riches he amassed he also indulged himself in all the vices available to him at that time. So it wasn’t the case he was being unfairly categorized a “sinner” but rather he earned that reputation by his corrupt living as well. But Jesus calls Matthew to follow him, as Matthew 9:9-13 records: “As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. ‘Follow me,’ he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and ‘sinners’ came and ate with him and his disciples. 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.’” Jesus demonstrates his own outreach strategy. He shows us his own evangelism plan. It’s surprising, but upon reflection it makes perfectly good sense. It’s surprising in the sense he engages and interacts with people who are typically classified as non-religious. Or at least everyone would agree that they are not practicing their religion if they followed any religion at all. Most of the people who lived in the land of Israel were Jews, although there were more pious Jews, less pious Jews, and all the rest who were in the middle somewhere in respect to their spiritual participation in Judaism. Tax collectors, if they were Jews at all, were on the far end of the non-practicing Jew classification. In other words, they were basically non-religious, not because they didn’t believe in God or didn’t follow any of God’s laws, but because they weren’t allowed to show their faces in the Jewish places of worship. Because of their occupation and corrupt lifestyle they were probably not allowed to attend a Jewish synagogue or participate in any of the Jewish festivals or celebrations in Jerusalem. But Jesus called Matthew to follow him – that’s surprising. But then again, it also made sense to recruit a sinner because after all they were the ones who definitely needed the life-change Jesus came to offer. But it’s no wonder why the religious people, the scribes and Pharisees, questioned Jesus’ approach. Instead of recruiting those already inclined towards religion, Jesus recruits the very opposite end of the spectrum, the sinners, the non-pious, and the non-religious. There was also the majority middle crowd, neither sinners nor saints, who he worked with also. But let’s look closer at this verse and see if we can’t understand further why Jesus called Matthew. It may give us a clue to fulfilling the great commission the Lord has commissioned us to carry out. Let me make a few observations. (more…)