Lessons from a Little Boy Lost

A few days ago in central Florida, a five-year old boy went missing late in the afternoon. He was last seen chasing after a dog. Almost immediately hundreds of volunteers along with police and fire rescue personnel began searching for the boy. With darkness setting in it became an all out effort. Fortunately the boy was found safe and sound around midnight almost a mile from home. It was a wonderful ending to the type of story that often has a tragic ending.

The story got me thinking about Luke 15 and Jesus telling three parables about three lost things; a lost coin, a lost sheep, and ironically a lost son. In the story of the lost coin and lost sheep the owners of the lost items conduct and all out frantic search for them. When they are found the owners rejoice and dance and shout with incredible delight. When the lost son returns home, the father throws a party and pulls out all the stops in order to celebrate. Clearly the lost coin, sheep, and son are of immense value. Finding them meant the world to the people who had lost them. Just like the lost little boy in central Florida, no effort was spared because it was potentially a matter of life and death. No one would argue with that kind of laser focused effort or huge expense when life is on the line.

So that got me wondering. Why are we so lackadaisical when it comes to those who may be lost for eternity because they do not know Jesus Christ and are not following Him? I was especially touched by this on the heals of my recent trip to India. I had the honor of spending time with numerous Christians whose lives are dedicated to finding and rescuing lost people. They are living out their faith in the midst of hostile Hindus, Muslims, and Buddhists and doing so all in the hope of bringing glory to Jesus by having others come to worship Him.

What a contrast that is to so many of us in the West. We have complete freedom to live out our faith and tell others about Jesus and yet seem so reluctant to do so. I wonder, would we be reluctant to help search for a five-year old who lives next door and went missing? Of course not. Then why are we so reluctant to reach out to those around us who are clearly “lost” from an eternal perspective? I have heard all the answers to this. “I don’t know what to say”. “I might get it wrong”. “Faith is such a private, personal thing”. The excuses go on and on.

I think the real reason is actually rather simple. We do not love Jesus or our neighbor nearly as much as we think we do. If we loved Jesus more, then we would be wanting to tell others about him with every fiber of our being. When you are first in love with someone, all the people around you know without a doubt that you are in love. You can’t help yourself talking about your beloved. You speak of their wonderful qualities and sing their praises to anyone with ears to hear. If we really loved Jesus that would be the same.

If we really loved our neighbors then we would be willing to go out of our way to serve them. That was one of the things I saw so clearly in India. Christians in hostile countries are actually being Christ-like servants to the lost people in their midst. That servant attitude is bringing lost people into a relationship with Jesus. When you love you neighbor as you want to be loved, they want to know why you are the way you are. That is what 1st Peter 3:15 is all about. When they ask, you have an open door to tell them about the love of Jesus. You are not forcing religion down their throat. You are responding to the way the Holy Spirit has opened their hearts to the message of Jesus.

Maybe part of our problem is that we don’t really believe that people are lost and destined to an eternity in Hell. In India, China, Bangladesh, Indonesia and a host of other countries from which I spoke to followers of Jesus, they have no doubt that people are lost. Their hearts break for those people and so they pull out all the stops in order to love them into the Kingdom. They also desperately love Jesus and as a result want more and more people to know and love and worship him.

Clearly we are missing something in the west. Have our hearts grown cold? Have we lost our first love? An easy way to answer those questions is to think of how often you pray for people you know to come to faith in Jesus. Think of how often you open your home and show hospitality to someone who does not know Jesus. Think of your response when you hear that someone has come to faith in Jesus. Is it a rather sedate response or do you break forth in celebration like the angels in heaven when they hear the same news? Think of how often your heart breaks when you think of people who do not know the love of God. Do you ever have your heart break? Do you ever really think about those lost people? The answers to those questions will tell you where your heart is.

Reflections of Being Knife Attacked in South Asia

Many of you know that I just returned from a trip to South Asia. A friend of mine, Joey Shaw was also there, having arrived a few days before me for the same event. The day before I arrived, Joey and two other friends were attacked and Joey was knifed across the face ending up with 35 stitches. I am posting this link to Joey’s blog about the event. http://www.austinstone.org/current/god_gospel_mission/lessons_from_a_razor/ It is more than inspirational to read Joey’s reflections on what happened. This is Provocative Christianity at its finest. Joey my friend, you continue to be a hero in my book. When I grow up I want to be more like you than I am like me.

A Church for Dogs or a Church for Homeless People?

At the risk of saying something way inappropriate I am writing this post while still emotionally charged after reading two news reports at www.ministriestoday.com. Both items where about churches in the Los Angeles area. One talked about a move among some area churches to seriously minister to the 8,000 homeless families in greater L.A. The other was about a Los Angeles church in was trying to turn around declining attendance by having a worship service for dogs. Yes you read that right!

In speaking about the need for ministry to the homeless, Pastor Mark Brewer of Bel Air Presbyterian Church said that it is no coincidence that there are 8,000 churches in L.A. and 8,000 homeless families. L.A. Homeless Ministry The push that is being made by more than 600 pastors and civic leaders is to have families “adopt” a homeless family and help them get on their feet. That certainly sounds like the kind of thing Jesus would and does ask us to do.

But then there is the story of Covenant Presbyterian Church which has started “Canines at Covenant”. Worship for Dogs These are worship services in which people are invited to bring their dog. It was purely a church growth strategy to help turn around a shrinking church. Apparently, incredibly and might I say, sadly, it seems to be working over the short-term. A recent service had 30 “humans” in attendance with their pets and 75% of them were new visitors.

I have a couple of problems with all of this. The obvious one is that more and more churches should be about things like ministry to the homeless and not about programs that are designed to tickle some fancy we have, like how good it would feel to have “Fido” in worship with me. If you really want your church to grow then maybe doing ministry to people who need to know the love of Christ like few others would be better than trying to figure out if your puppy likes hymns or praise choruses.

It also concerns me that the ministry at Covenant Presbyterian is the logical step in a growing “consumerism” mindset in the church. So much of evangelical Christianity has turned into presenting Jesus as the person who will solve all your problems and make you feel wonderful, while expecting little or nothing in return. Yet when Jesus called Peter and Andrew, as well as James and John to “Come Follow Me”, he called them to become “fishers of men” and to “take up their cross”. That call is still the one we are supposed to answer. I understand that following Jesus can and does make your life better. But that is the result of following him as a servant and kingdom minded disciple. It is not the goal of following him. There is a huge difference. The more we cater to people with gimmicks and short-sighted appeals to fill the seats, the more we will drift off the path that Christ walks and the less real impact we will have in the lives of people.

God, Football, and the First Amendment

I read a news article about a Georgia high school forbidding certain Christian statements and Bible verses being painted on banners that the cheerleaders made for the football team. (School bans Bible Verses) Having played football and served as a coach for 20 years, I have seen my share of cheerleader produced banners. Most of them are wonderful and inspirational. Occasionally they cross the line, like the one that encouraged our team to “Castrate Trinity” the opponent for the night. What it gained in poetic flow it lost in the details of the encouraged activity. But such was not the case at Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School. Instead the banners said things like, “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me in Christ Jesus” (Philippians) and “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but of power, love and self-discipline” (II Timothy).

The problem arose when someone who loves Jesus raised a concern. According to the law of the land, since the cheerleaders are a school sponsored group serving at a school sponsored event, they could not “promote” a particular religion with the clearly Christian sentiments. So the cheerleaders had to stop making and displaying those kinds of banners and resort to the more typical ones encouraging determination and teamwork. I assume they did not call for the other team to be castrated or even circumcised.

But a law that applies to the cheerleaders does not apply to the fans. They can say whatever they want on their banners. As a result this town of 9,600 people now has not one but dozens of Bible verse banners at every game. Of course there are also lots of banners about not being silenced and not be ashamed of Jesus. So in one sense by following the law they went from one banner about their faith to dozens. I think that most people following Jesus would think that the added number of Bible verses was a good thing. The more scripture people see and read the better.

Of course there are some people who are furious with the person who raised the concern about the banner. Some of the reactions are less than charitable. What they don’t understand is that the woman who raised the concern was trying to do the school a favor and save them from a law suit that was sure to come someday from people who really objected. It would be a law suit that the school would certainly loose. You really can’t have cheerleaders at a football game holding up a banner about Jesus for the team to run through. Imagine if by some twist of fate most of the cheerleaders happened to be Hindu and they made a banner that said “Shiva is our strength, He will destroy our Opponent”. I suspect that lots of Christians would freak out over that. Well there is that old saying about something being good for the goose as well as the gander. Jesus said something about loving your neighbor as yourself.

What is appropriate is not that the cheerleaders, but that private citizens exercise their first amendment rights and make whatever banners they want. One of my deeply held convictions is that for far too long Christians have leaned on the government and government related institutions to help prop up and promote our faith. Arguments about prayer in school and “In God We Trust” on our money fall into that category as does cheerleader produced banners. The idea of being a Provocative Christian is that our lives are such a compelling witness for Jesus that we don’t need such artificial supports for promoting Jesus. According to 1 Peter 3:15 people should see the hope we have in our lives and be provoked to ask us about the reason for it. So I like the fact that the Christians of Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School are relying on their on ability to witness and not that of the cheerleaders.

What I find a bit disconcerting is that the banner production and overwhelming displays have taken on a defiant tone. It seems motivated more by outrage that the cheerleaders have been silenced than out of a love for God and neighbor. Unfortunately that is usually what motivates many Christians to start speaking out for their faith. We get outraged at some perceived injustice to our faith, some supposed removal of rights we think we have, and we react just like an indignant world reacts. We protest.  For starters I am not at all convinced that such displays and protests really lead anyone to ask about the reason for the hope we have in Christ. In fact I think most people who don’t follow Jesus are more put off than brought in.

So while I am glad that the proclamation of the faith has not been left to a cheerleader produced banner that a group of teenage football players run through and tear to shreds at the start of a game, I am concerned that we still haven’t gotten it right on how we should proclaim Jesus. I am thinking that having hope in the face of economic downturns, cutting the lawn or shoveling the snow of the widow next door, sitting for hours with the person grieving a death and simply being a strength with your presence, inviting international students to your home for Thanksgiving Dinner and using the opportunity to tell about being thankful to Jesus, these are the things that will change the world for Christ. But I forgot, it is easier to let the cheerleaders make banners, and if that fails we will make banners and hold them up in a crowd of other people with similar banners and be certain we are standing up for our faith and showing what it means to be a follower of Jesus.