God Loves Lost People

September 11, 2016

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. 
22 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 yet 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 Strobels 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 22 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 their language, you sang their songs and you understood their 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. 
A few years ago I was talking to another
pastor 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 if 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 coin’s 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 36 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 home
lost sons and daughters.  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. 
But it doesn’t stop with those
who are here.  Our communities are filled
with lost people who need God and our purpose is to help de-populate hell.
And it is because we believe that
that we ask so much from you.
Why we ask you to give more and
serve more, because reaching lost people is a responsibility we all share. 
As more people come home to
Cornerstone there will be a 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 we have folks who do just that.
Sometimes when someone is asked
to serve in ministry, whether it be greeting, hosting our coffee time or
ministering to our children they will say “I’ve already done my time.”  Which might be the appropriate response if
you are talking about prison but not if you’re talking about ministry.   
The only question that remains
is: Do we love lost people enough to pay the price?