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March 8 2015

God’s Desire, Part 3

 

 

The greater part of this sermon is taken from Pastor Brad Briscoe’s excellent message delivered last month at the “Furnace” conference on evangelism. His message (second message by Brad Briscoe) can be either viewed or listened to on the Missouri Baptist website (mobaptist.org) by clicking on “Evangelism” and then going to the Furnace Conference page.

 

 

How do we live out God’s desire to reach the lost in a practical way? Brothers and sisters we must change. If we do not change we will be disappointed on the day when our lives are reviewed. We must change both as individuals and as a church. But not many like to change. We tend to find a comfort zone and then settle in. Anything that may potentially disturb the balance that we think we have found is resisted.

 

We must look beyond our comfort zone and look to God’s word, which is our guide and our standard for life. If our living does not match up to the living portrayed for us in Scripture then we must make changes. This is why we have spent two Sundays on being clear about what God’s desire is and how, if we love Him, this must be our desire as well.

 

I hope that you have been persuaded that one of God’s great desires is for the redemption of many and that He calls us, and Jesus calls us, to participate in fulfilling His desires. God’s desire is God’s mission for he seeks to carry it out, not to merely contemplate it. “Mission” can be an uncomfortable word. Many, when they hear the word, think of a missionary in a foreign land possibly living in austerity or danger or both. The word for some carries the idea of work. And not too many people like work. But neither of those ideas are inherent in the word mission. A mission is nothing more than seeking to carry out a goal. God has goals. God is on a mission.

 

So, how do we live out God’s desire to reach the lost in a practical way?

 

There is a book entitled The Great Good Place by Ray Oldenburg, a sociologist, written in 1989 that has nothing to do with evangelism but which may shed light (I hope much light) on how we may live out God’s mission which is also our mission if we belong to Him.

 

The book is about the demise of “third places.” What is a third place? A third place is a place of neutrality, a place of common ground. A third place is a social place where people can be with other people. According to Oldenburg, third places have begun to disappear over the last two centuries. As a result, our communities have become “placeless places.” The reasons he gives for third places disappearing are three. The first two are: suburban sprawl (people moving out of the cities and into suburbs) and the automobile culture. Whenever people want to go somewhere now they just get into their car and drive. They leave their neighborhood to go to work, the bank, school, what-have-you. As a result our neighborhoods have become places where people do not know one another and there is little conversation among neighbors.

 

The third reason he gives for the demise of the third place is home entertainment. A person can be entertained in their own house and entertainment is so easily accessed that it can and does keep them at home and not interacting with others. We have often experienced, have we not, a lack of interaction with members of our own family because of entertainment?

 

The book was written in 1989 before something happened. If he had written the book more currently I am sure he would have included a fourth reason. What cultural activity happened after 1989 that is quite time consuming? Ans: the Internet! The internet is considered to have become popular when usage hit 50% in the United States. When do you think that was? Ans: 1999. Oldenburg’s book was written ten years before popular use of the internet. I think it is self-evident that the internet, for all the good that it can do, is an even bigger contributor to the demise of third places. Or, if there is a third place, people are there on the internet!!

 

The author speaks of first places, second places, and third places. A first place is where you live. This is where people spend most of their time. The second place is where you work. And then he defines the third place as a place where people congregate to relax, converse, and socialize.

 

The first place is not just our home, but our neighborhood.

 

[I] To live out God’s desire, to share the good news, it must start where we live. God has placed you where you live for a purpose. You have the words of eternal life! Yes, you do. And, you are able to share those words with your neighbor. Yes, you are able. Do not believe that you are not because it is not true.

 

Here is our problem: most Christians do not know their neighbors.

 

How many of you know both the first and last names of the neighbor to your left and the neighbor to your right. I know that some of us live in rural areas and our nearest neighbor may be acres away, but the question still stands. Raise your hand if you know the first and last name of both your immediate neighbors. I cannot raise my hand.

 

In Matthew chapter 22 when Jesus tells us to love our neighbor, do you know what that means in the Greek? It means love your neighbor. Love your neighbor. How can you love your neighbor if you do not know who they are? We cannot love them, we cannot have conversations with them, unless we know who they are. It starts with getting to know them.

 

We had four neighbors if you count the Swensons who live right across the Hwy EE. We have met three of them. One has since passed away. I do not know the last name of the other neighbor and one we haven’t met. We have a new neighbor – a house was recently built just up the hill two hundred yards. Now we have four neighbors again and two we have not met. We are going to meet them. I hope this week. For the one who has been here since we moved in over three years ago it will be a little awkward. But, do you know how to handle that? You just say, “This is a little awkward, but I am your neighbor. We moved in three years ago and I have never come over to meet you. I just want to introduce myself.” It is that simple. Another preacher who has experience in getting people to know their neighbors relates that most neighbors are pleased to finally meet you.

 

The other aspect of living out God’s desire for the lost in the “first place,” the place where we live, is the aspect of hospitality. The Lord wishes our homes to be beacons of light both to the lost and even to other members of the household of faith. Showing hospitality reveals something about a person’s heart. Refraining from hospitality also shows something. Let us be those whose homes are a place where we entertain strangers because that is what hospitality actually means.

 

When I was a college student I attended a small church that met in someone’s home. This little group of only about a dozen people met late on Sunday afternoon. One day a couple invited their landlord to come since he was a Christian. He came and listened politely to the message and sang along with the songs. Towards the end of the time of worship the landlord, Tom, shared some spiritual truths along the lines of what the speaker had shared. The difference was that what Tom shared was both deep and moving. I was touched by what he said. As I talked with him afterward he invited me to his home for dinner. Those of you who have been to college know that students neither have money nor ever get enough to eat, so I took him up on his offer. At the dinner table he again shared things out of God’s word that were like water to a thirsty soul. I began attending the church he attended and did so for four years. That particular church became a great blessing to me in my walk with the Lord. I never would have found that church had it not been for the hospitality that Tom Pritchard exercised.

 

If one were to substitute another word for hospitality – a word that reflects what hospitality is all about, other than love (which would be a good one) – what would it be? Pastor Brad Briscoe has the right perspective on this. He says that word would be “inclusion.” I grew up in the 70’s. It was the height of the counter-culture, of being different, of being “cool.” There was a popular expression back then and you still hear it today. When someone said something that you agreed with or liked the young people would say, “Right On!” When Briscoe says that the word “inclusion” gets to the heart of what hospitality is about, I say “Right On!” It does.

 

The reason many of us do not invite strangers to our home is because many who we might invite do not meet our standards of propriety. They are sinners. But that is the very reason we should be inviting them and getting to know them! People need Christ and we need to get off of our high horse and include them in our lives and in our homes.

 

Briscoe has another saying along these lines that is quite fitting: “Acceptance paves the way for influence.” We need to accept those who are not like us. We need to receive those who are unacceptable to many. Acceptance does not mean approval. Acceptance means we receive a person because they are made in the image of God.

 

If we do not accept a person we cut off all opportunity for influencing their lives.

 

Why don’t we know our neighbors and why don’t we practice hospitality? There are two reasons. Either our lives are too busy or, if we have time that is not already taken up, we look for entertainment. I am guilty of the former. I am slowly and, I hope, methodically trying to make it less so. It is important that we stay off these two rails, the rails of busyness and entertainment, because they are deadly to relationships. Not only relationships with our friends and family, but relationships with strangers. We cannot get to know people if we are rushing here and there and we cannot get to know people if we are sitting in front of the TV or the computer screen or our smart phone.

 

Our homes should be beacons of light, not just a place to sleep or an entertainment center.

 

Living out God’s desire for the lost in the first place, where we live, has two aspects. We can and should get to know and love our neighbors. And, our homes should be places of hospitality.

 

[II] The second place is the place where we work or, if you are a student, the place where you go to get your schooling. The places where we work ought to be a place where we, as individuals, carry out God’s desire for the lost. The greatest thing that inhibits us in this realm is not the rules at work (some places restrict conversation or topics of conversation, especially governmental agencies).  The greatest inhibitor is not even our cowardice to speak. It is this idea that there are two kinds of activity for the disciple of Christ. There is sacred activity (like going to church or evangelizing) and there is secular activity (like working at a job or going to school). There is no such distinction. We have simply made it up.

 

  • All of life is for the glory of God for the believer.
  • All of life is for carrying out God’s desires.
  • All of life is sacred for the believer.

 

Once we rid ourselves of this notion of a divide between “working for God” and “not working for God in this place or that place” and realize and embrace the reality that all work that we do is for God, then we will experience a greater freedom to speak on his behalf. If your job is to dig ditches, dig ditches to God’s glory! Dig your ditch well. And, is someone is digging a ditch next to you there are things you can say to that person that can minister life. He or she may have a need that you can learn about and help with.

 

When we lived in Washington there was a couple that lived in our small community that we became friends with. They lived on top of a big hill near our home. They were devoted followers of the Lord and we often met with them just to talk about the Scriptures. The husband, Richard, told his story of conversion. He was working for Boeing and he was invited to a Bible Study that some of his co-workers had at work during the lunch hour. He wasn’t sure he wanted to go but went one day anyway and discovered that it was quite interesting. As he continued to attend he soon learned of his great need of a Savior and became a follower of the Lord Jesus. It was Richard’s co-workers that brought him to the Lord.

 

One does not have to start a Bible Study at work to reach the lost. Daily conversation is a means to that end. Do you know one of the easiest ways to bring up a spiritual truth? Just say, “Do you know what I enjoyed seeing in the Bible this week?” And just tell them. You do not even have to relate it to salvation. The Holy Spirit will do that for you.

 

Do you know what hinders you from doing that? Well, not reading the Bible! But, besides that. It is the uncomfortableness of it all. It might be that we could be uncomfortable about it because we don’t know our co-workers that well. So, get to know them better! That is not hard. Become more than just a co-worker. Become a friend. Then, it is easier to talk about things like that with your friend.

 

[III] The third place are these places of neutrality or common ground. This book that I referred to, The Great Good Place by Oldenberg, has a subtitle. Subtitles are good. They tell you more about the book than the title. The subtitle of the book is “Café’s, Coffeeshops, Bookstores, Pubs, Hair Salons, and Other Hang-Outs in the Heart of Your Community.”

 

As far as such a place being represented on television, there was a show that ran a long time ago and, I suppose, still is on in reruns and the tagline was “Where Everyone Knows Your Name.” What was that show? Ans: Cheers. Now, I never watched that show. If I remember correctly I think I watched one episode. But I understand the premise. Cheers is a place where people go to know other people and to be known. In some ways it is a cheap imitation of the church. The church, when it is healthy and personal as it is supposed to be, is the best place to know other people and to be known.

 

Even though that is true, it is not the only place. We need other people and other people need us.

 

Third places present many opportunities for meaningful conversation. There are many times that the Lord ordained meeting people in coffee shops in my own experience. One time I was just reading my Bible and a gentleman sitting next to me made an innocent comment about it. I asked him if he had read the New Testament. He said that he had read parts of it a long time ago. I handed him a gospel and simply said, “These are words of life and I think you will find that it is unlike anything else you have read.” Or, something along those lines. He graciously received it and told me that he was going to read it. I never saw him again but prayer for him daily for several weeks afterward. I trust in the Lord’s promise that His word would not return void. Another time, just last year, I was in Starbucks and entered into a conversation with a high school teacher somewhere near Kansas City who just happened to be passing through. We talked for a while and he said that he was not a Christian because he did not find the evidence for the Christian faith persuasive. I gave him a copy of Charlie Dines’ tract simply entitled “Resurrection” wherein in just a dozen or so pages he gives powerful arguments for the truth of the resurrection of Christ. It was just the right thing for a teacher to read.

 

These brief encounters can be used by the Lord to open people’s eyes to spiritual realities. But, there can be even better opportunities to meet new people and establish something more permanent.

 

If Oldenberg is right then many people are living relationally impoverished lives. This is why third places are important and this is especially why they are important to us as disciples of Christ. We can bring people into relationship – into relationship with us and into relationship with the One they need the most, Jesus, our Savior.

 

There are two things that we can do to make third places a part of our lives.

 

[A] We need to identify and enter into third places. In these places you will hear conversations and opportunities will arise for you to speak to people. Some of the things that you can say to them in love they would otherwise never hear because many will never darken the door of a church. 

 

[B] We need to make the time to visit those places regularly. If you go regularly you will begin to see the same people there and the opportunities increase for interaction. You will get to know the people that work there.

 

Conclusion: Henri Nouwen, a man of God who recently passed away, wrote this: “More and more a desire has arisen within me to just walk around and greet people, to enter their homes, sit on their doorsteps, to play ball, and to be known as someone who wants to live with them. It is a privilege to have the time to practice this simple ministry of presence. Still, it is not as simple as it seems. My own desire to be useful, to do something significant, or to be part of some impressive project, is so strong that soon my time is taken up by meetings, study groups, and workshops that prevent me from walking the streets.

 

It is difficult not to have plans, not to organize people around a cause…but I wonder more and more if the first thing isn’t just to know people by name, to eat and drink with them, to listen to their stories, and tell your own. And to let them know with words, handshakes, and hugs that you don’t simply like them but that you love them.”