God Loves Lost People

November 14, 2010

If you’ve been around Cornerstone long enough you have probably heard our mission statement or perhaps you’ve read it on our website. Late in the last century when Angela and I were dreaming about what this church would look like we were told that an important part of that process was to develop a mission statement and so we did. 16 years ago when people asked us what we were about we could tell them with conviction “Cornerstone Wesleyan Church exists to reach pre-Christians through dynamic worship and relevant preaching, bringing them to a life expanding relationship with Jesus Christ and guiding them into a practical holiness as evidenced through the fruit of the Spirit.” And sometimes when we would parrot off our mission statement we would have other Christians question it. “Why do you call them Pre-Christians? You’re just being mushy, it should be the lost or sinners” or “Why don’t you talk about them getting saved? What’s with the Life expanding relationship stuff?” “You’re just pandering to them with your relevant messages and dynamic worship; we didn’t come to entertain the world”
So early on we learned to defend our vision, we refer to folks as pre-Christians because we believe that we are going to reach people who aren’t Christ followers now but that they will become Christ followers, thus they are not non-Christians they are simply pre-Christians. We talk about Life Expanding because we believe that when you come into that relationship with Christ it not only gives you the promise of eternal life in heaven when you die but it gives you a better life, an abundant life, a changed life, an expanded life here on earth.
And the relevant preaching and dynamic worship is just part of the plan, if we expect folks to connect with Cornerstone then we are going to have to take the first step. That when they hear the messages they don’t leave saying “So what?” Instead the messages will be relevant to where they are in their lives right now and they can apply it to their lives where they are today. And dynamic worship, why not? People ought to enjoy church. Most of us don’t listen to 500 year old music played on an organ the other six days of the week so why would we do it on Sunday?
And that dream started during my time in Australia, I read a book by Robert Kriegel called “If It Ain’t Broke Break it” it is primarily a business book challenging people to think outside the box. Then I picked up a book by George Barna called “User Friendly Churches” that highlighted a number of new churches that were making a major difference in how they did “Church” And then it all came together in a week long seminar I attended in Brisbane in the winter of 1992, it was actually summer in Brisbane, but that just gets confusing. Bill Hybels and a team from Willow Creek Community Church spent a week presenting a conference entitled “Building a Church for the Unchurched”, during the conference he referenced a book written by Lee Storbels called “Inside the mind of Unchurched Harry and Mary” and I was smitten. To have a church that was intentional in their purpose, intriguing.
For the first ten years of my ministry the thought had been “If they are serious about getting saved they’ll come to church the way we’ve always done church.” They’ll sing our songs, they will learn our language and they will adopt our customs and in the end if they stick with it long enough they will meet our God.
But what if we sang music that at least the style was familiar to those outside the church? What if we made sure that we didn’t use words that unchurched people were unfamiliar with? What if we used videos of things they were familiar with? What if we took the time to explain things like communion? And that was the dream that this church was based on, that we would endeavour to reach the pre-churched, the de-churched and the un-churched.
After all we are told in John 3:16 “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. And that thought is reiterated in Romans 5:8 But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. So if God loved pre-Christians enough to give his Son and Jesus loved pre-Christians enough to give his life I would think that we should be willing to give up our traditions and preferences for them if that’s what it takes.
And so 16 years later our mission remains the same, although sometimes we shorten it down to say “Cornerstone exists to reach pre-Christians” or most times I will simply say “Cornerstone is here to help depopulate hell.” And I believe that, I believe that there are people today in our church and in our community who will go to heaven because of who we are and what we do and that wouldn’t have been the case if there had been no Cornerstone.
But sometimes I still have pastors or believers from more traditional churches accuse us of pandering to people, or watering down the gospel and dumbing down the message. Oh well. I am reminded of the story told about D.L. Moody, apparently someone asked Moody how he reached the lost. When he told them they informed him they didn’t agree with his methods so Moody asked “How do you do it?” to which they replied “I don’t.” Moody answered “I like my way better.”
Our story begins in Luke 15:1-3 Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them! So Jesus told them this story:
Two thousand years ago it was the same as it is today. Religion was sometime seen as a closed club, you came to God on the terms of established religion, you learned the language, you sang their songs and you understood the rules, both the written rules and the unwritten rules. And Jesus began to shake that up, instead of expecting those who needed God to take all the steps Jesus made it easier for them. He taught in fields and market places, in people’s homes and with simple stories that people could understand. And the religious establishment got a little cranky because they were feeling threatened.
So Jesus did what Jesus so often did, he told them a story, it wasn’t a theological dissertation, it wasn’t a sermon filled it religious terms and words, it was just a story. When we lived in Australia, it is a beautiful country filled with wonderful people who are far from God, and I discovered that in most social settings if people asked me what I did for a living and I told them I was a pastor it became a very different conversation, they shut right down. So often when someone asked what I did I would tell them “I’m a story teller” and that would often move them in a direction where we could talk.
But back to the message, this chapter is one of the most loved chapters in the Bible; it contains the story of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son. Or as he is often referred to “The Prodigal Son.” There are times that people will talk about these as three separate parables but the reality is that there is only one parable, there are simply three parts to that parable. It is like a montage, three pictures in a single frame, brought together by a single overriding theme, it would appear that Jesus was defining three types of lost.
So let’s start at the beginning, Jesus looks at the religious leaders, don’t know if he was sad, frustrated or angry that they didn’t get it but he begins his parable by telling them. Luke 15:4 “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it?
In the first instance The Sheep Was Lost Through Its Own Carelessness The story would be familiar to anyone who had ever tended sheep because they really weren’t the brightest of animals. Most of what I read this week about sheep would imply that they aren’t the sharpest knife in the animal drawer. If I wasn’t so sensitive and careful with my words I’d probably say that The Sheep was lost through its own stupidity. But I won’t go there.
A sheep is driven by its appetites and the immediate, it has no long term plans or desires, its main concern is simply to find food for right now. And so with its head down the wayward sheep eats and wanders and wanders and eats until it has wandered far from the safety of the flock.
Its wandering is not a conscious act, it doesn’t begin the day by saying “I think I will wander off and get eaten by a wolf today.” Instead it is simply satisfying its base needs, oblivious to the bigger picture.
And there are folks like that today, perhaps some right here in this service. They are not far from God because that was their plan; they just didn’t have a plan. Their world is consumed with the immediate, earning a living, feeding their appetites, simply making it through life.
And some of those appetites and desires move them further and further from God, but it is carelessness and a lack of knowledge. That’s where I was when I was 19. Jason and I were talking one day and the question came up about making church relevant to people who are far from God. And I commented that the relevancy of the church never crossed my mind before I chose to follow Christ. I didn’t deliberately not go to church, it was just something that never crossed my mind to do.
I didn’t go to church, I didn’t attend meetings at the Lions Club and I wasn’t a Shriner simply because they weren’t a part of my life. I never stopped to think about the eternal, or about creation or about God. I was lost and like the sheep who had wandered away wasn’t even aware that I was lost. But that didn’t make me any less lost. And it wasn’t until a friend confronted me about my lostness that I even gave it any thought.
And I would venture that the vast majority of the folks in our community who don’t attend church just don’t think about it. And so for them we need to present both the church and the kingdom in such a way that they actually stop and consider what we have to offer. And in most cases that will happen when people who already follow Christ talk to their pre-Christian friends and family members about the difference that Jesus and Cornerstone has made in their lives. It’s really that simple no big plan just an acknowledgement that there is something else out there.
The second picture that Jesus draws is in Luke 15:8 “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Won’t she light a lamp and sweep the entire house and search carefully until she finds it? If the sheep was lost through its own carelessness The Coin Was Lost Through Its Someone Else’s Carelessness. Culturally there is a lot going on in this story. With the sheep the shepherd had lost one in a hundred, but here the woman loses one of the ten silver coins that she has, not one percent of the total but 10 percent of the total. And the commentators say that the coins may have represented a couple of different things to the woman.
For some it was her household savings, her rainy day fund, money set aside for a specific purpose and that makes sense. Maybe she was counting it wondering how much longer it would take her to have what she needed or maybe she had what she needed and now was taking it out to spend it on whatever it was that she had saved it for.
At least one commentator offers a more romantic spin and claims in that time and culture the mark of a married woman was a head-dress made of ten silver coins linked together by a silver chain. And if that was the case and that it was one of these coins that was lost, she would have searched for it like you would search for your lost wedding band.
But it was not the coins fault that it had been lost, it hadn’t jumped out of the woman’s hand, she dropped it or she misplaced it but it was her fault not the coin’s. But the coin had certain characteristics that allowed it to be pre-disposed to being lost. It was heavy and so it fell, it was round so it rolled and it was inanimate so it just lay there hidden.
And there are people in our community today who are far from God because of the actions of other people. Parents who had no use for the church, I hear that from time to time, adults who from the time there were children heard nothing but criticism of the church and God, they were shaped from childhood to be lost.
Or maybe it was an incident where they were hurt or disappointed by a church or a believer; I’ve heard those stories as well. Or maybe today it is a result of the constant negative press the church seems to get in the national media. A few years ago we did the window wash thing at the Esso across the street. One Saturday in February we washed peoples windows and topped up their windshield washer fluids and gave them a magnet with information about the church on them. And this one guy when he found out I was from church started yelling about priests and little boys and televangelists and churches stealing people’s money. And then he jumped in truck and drove away. Wow.
And for those people we need to prove ourselves, and we do that through our actions and through our authenticity. We not only say we care and can be trusted we prove it through our actions and the actions of those who call themselves Christ Followers. But remember even those that are lost because of the carelessness of others, are still lost and they still need to be found.
And that brings us to the third picture in the frame and probably the most familiar one, everyone knows the term the Prodigal Son, even people who have never set foot inside a church. Little side lesson here, often we think that Prodigal is a description of someone who knew God and wandered away. Prodigal was actually a description of the life style that he was living and had nothing to do with his past life style or his future life style.
And so Jesus continues with his lesson Luke 15:11-13 To illustrate the point further, Jesus told them this story: “A man had two sons. The younger son told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now before you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons. “A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living.” The Son Was Lost Through His Deliberate Actions This is what sets this story apart from the other two, it wasn’t carelessness that resulted in his being lost, it was a conscious thought and action, he deliberately walked away from his father and his father’s home. Have you seen the progression? One sheep out of a hundred, one coin out of ten, but here it is one son out of two. We’ve gone from a loss of 1% to 10% to 50%. From a relatively insignificant loss to one of incredible significance, the loss of a son.
It wasn’t his carelessness that led the boy into his wilderness, he knew exactly what he was doing. And it wasn’t someone else’s fault, as far as we can tell the boy had a good home and a loving family. And he decided to walk away from his home and his family. This was a conscious decision that he made, nobody else made it for him.
And there are people out there today who have consciously decided to not follow Jesus or they were part of the family and decided that they didn’t want to be part of the family any more.
But regardless of why the son was lost the reality is that he was lost. He no longer had any of the privileges of being part of that family, he no longer slept under their roof no longer shared their meals.
I think it is interesting that the shepherd went looking for the sheep, and the woman swept her house in order to find the coin but the father simply waited for his son to return. Because there wasn’t anything else he could do. Once the boy had decided to go there were only two options that remained 1) Let him go 2) Take away his free will. And as effective as shackles and a small room in the barn would have been it was outside the scope of the father’s love. As much as the father loved his child he wasn’t about to take away his free will. Sound familiar?
In January I will have been in pastoral ministry for 30 years, and I have owned cats for 42 years and I have discovered that pastoring people is like owning cats. If they get out you can’t run and catch them. You ever try to catch a cat? Not going to happen not until it wants to be caught. Oh you do the right things you call for the cat, and you rattle the treat bag but they come home when they want to come home. All you can do is be prepared when they come back to let them back in.
And I have discovered that when someone decides to leave the church or worse turn their back on their faith there’s not a lot you or me or God can do to prevent that from happening, shy of locking them in a small room in chains and that goes back to the free will issue again.
And so we call them and rattle the treat bag but we need to be prepared when they come home. In the story we read this Luke 15:20 “So he (the lost son) returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him.”
Sometimes we are better at tracking down lost sheep and lost coins then we are at welcoming back lost sons. Just saying.
But all three stories ended the same way listen again to the words of Jesus.
Luke 15:6 When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbours, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’
Luke 15:9 And when she finds it, she will call in her friends and neighbours and say, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost coin.’
Luke 15:22-24 “But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.
And then Jesus ties it all together with a bow when he said Luke 15:10 “In the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels when even one sinner repents.”
Are we serious about our mission, about God’s mission? About reaching pre-Christians? It cost God his son, it cost Jesus his life and be assured it will cost you something.
There are those in this group today because others were willing to pay that something, the cost of this building, stepping outside their comfort zone to talk to you about God and Cornerstone or in giving up their preferences in order to have a church that you would feel comfortable in.
What will it cost you? Being a part of the 9 a.m. service or eventually moving to another service? As more people come home to Cornerstone there will be need for more volunteers to provide for more ministries and you might be thinking but I don’t want to miss Sunday morning worship. Do you think our other volunteers want to miss the service? Plus we have the great opportunity to work in one service and worship in the other one. And ultimately there will be a need for more finances and eventually for a bigger facility.
The only question that remains is: Do we love lost people enough to pay the price?