Go forth now as God’s servant. Remember God’s presence often and draw strength from the knowledge that the One who calls and sends also sustains. Amen.
“As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me.” ~John 9:4
We have a tremendous opportunity to point to our Lord Jesus in the ways we behave during this virus crisis. Our perspective is reframed by Christ. We don’t complain or criticize, we don’t point fingers and blame. Like our Lord, we share and sacrifice and serve for the sake of others. There is such an opportunity right now to really stand out as generous and kind.
Whether you go to Wal-Mart eight times a day or once a week, you could knock three or four doors on your street before you go. Ask your neighbors, “Can I get anything for you? I’m going to the store, what do you need?” Maybe you could give toilet paper away on your street. There’s a Seinfeld episode about not being able to spare a square. Maybe you can start a trend by sharing a square, sharing a whole bunch of squares!
The point is: When this thing is over, do we want to be known as greedy hoarders or as generous sharers? At the end of this crisis, we don’t want people to remember that the Christians were the ones buying up all the toilet paper and hamburger meat. We want people to think, “You know, I may not agree with their position on abortion or divorce or whatever, I may not fully understand everything they do on Sundays and why they do it, but those Christians are so kind. They’re so generous. They kept checking up on me. They shared valuable resources with me. They really care about others.”
That’s what brings glory to God. That’s what displays our God’s work in the world.
We dropped another podcast here at Central yesterday afternoon: a 15-minute conversation with one of our home-school moms, Danna Lagan. She provides helpful tips and encouragement for everyone who became home-school parents for the first time this week. With our schools shut down across the country, many folks are now stuck at home with the kids and trying to help them with their online learning. An increasing number of grandparents who are raising their grandchildren are now trying to figure out how to help a grandchild with 6th grade math! Danna addresses these things, as well as schedules, power struggles, and outside resources on this podcast. You can access it by clicking here.
“As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me.” ~John 9:4
When the grocery store shelves are empty, when your work hours have been cut in half, when the banquet has been canceled, and you don’t even want to look at your 401k — when the news is always breaking, always urgent, and always bad — it’s easy to think only of yourself. It’s tempting to concentrate on your safety, your security, your possessions, and your lifestyle. But Jesus resets your priorities.
Jesus walks into Jerusalem and gives this blind man his sight and brings glory to God. Jesus repairs what is messed up and points to God’s work in the world. Fixing what is broken, making right what has gone wrong — that brings glory to God. Notice how this man’s healing, his circumstance, becomes a display for God’s work. The man publicly testifies that Jesus is from God. He confesses his faith: “Lord, I believe.” The Pharisees accuse and criticize this man. “Give glory to God!” they say. And the healed man responds, “I am! Look what Jesus did for me! I was blind, but now I see!”
Our elders at Central made the decision nine days ago: No matter what happens with this virus, our priority is to love our neighbors, to protect the vulnerable and those at risk, and to minister to the marginalized. That’s the Christian thing to do. That what our Lord Jesus does and that’s what brings glory to God.
Not meeting together as a church right now is a way to love our neighbors. Even if you’re in your 20s and you run a half-marathon twice a month, even if you’re young and completely healthy and you think the national and state response is a bit overblown, not meeting for a while is a faithful attempt during this uncertain time to love neighbors you don’t know and protect vulnerable people you may never meet.
It’s like getting a flu shot. You don’t get a flu shot just for you. You get the shot so you won’t get the flu and pass it on to somebody who might not be able to handle it. If you get the flu, it may only knock you out for a couple of days; but you could then pass it on to somebody it might kill. So you get your flu shot because you love those vulnerable people. You do whatever you can to keep from getting it and spreading it to others.
That’s what we’re doing as a church right now. We are joining our community in trying to flatten the curve. We want to work together so that the peak of the infections will be smaller and more spread out. I’m not sure it’s ultimately going to keep people from getting the disease. But it might slow it down long enough to save more lives.
So we’re not meeting as a group right now. Our Sticky Buddy event for this Sunday night has been canceled (that was a no-brainer; it was at the bowling alley, probably not the most sanitary place in Amarillo). The Evening of Chocolate for tonight has been postponed (there’s a whole bunch of chocolate in this building somewhere; I just haven’t been able to find it). But that doesn’t mean we are not still the Church.
Church is not a building we use once a week on Sunday mornings. Our gatherings are suspended, but our ministries are not. We’re still providing dinner at Martha’s Home and studying and praying and encouraging our sisters there. Loaves and Fishes looks a lot different, but we are still handing out a bunch of groceries on Thursdays. The procedures for Snack Pack for Kids has been modified, but we’re still getting food to the students at Bivins Elementary. Our Sunday morning prayer breakfast was tweaked, but everybody who showed up got a free meal. Our Care Central process is not the same, but we’re still paying water bills and getting state I.D.s and giving out gas cards and praying for everybody who walks through the doors.
We made the decision last Monday. The rule of thumb for us is if it protects the vulnerable, if it comforts the grieving, if it ministers to the marginalized, we’re going to keep doing it. Absolutely. “We must do the work of him who sent me.”
Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi made a movie in 1980 about Jake and Elwood Blues. The Blues Brothers are on a “mission from God” to save the orphanage where they were raised. “Mission from God” is the catchphrase throughout the movie. The cops won’t catch us because we’re on a mission from God. The rednecks won’t hurt us because we’re on a mission from God. The lady with the rocket launcher won’t kill us because we’re on a mission from God. We can’t be stopped, we can’t be slowed down, nothing’s going to get in our way, because we’re on a mission from God.
At one of the dramatic points in the movie — yes, there are a couple of dramatic moments in The Blues Brothers — both men get into the car at the same time, they close their doors, and there’s an effective pause. A stillness. Then Aykroyd, in his deadpan, matter of fact way, assesses the situation.
“It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark… and we’re wearing sunglasses.”
To which Belushi points to the road ahead and replies, “Hit it!”
We know our God is on a mission. His mission is not to save an orphanage, although, that is part of it. God’s mission is to save the whole world. The Bible says God is bringing all things in heaven and on earth together in Christ. In Jesus, God is restoring all of creation, he is reconciling all things, he’s tearing down all the walls and destroying all the barriers to bring all people and all things together in Christ. That’s what God is doing. That’s his mission.
And he has no interest in doing it by himself. He calls us to join him.
God tells Abraham he’s going to bless all the peoples of the world, but he’s going to do it through him. He tells Moses, “I have come down to rescue my people, but I’m sending you to the Pharaoh to bring them out.” He tells Joshua, “I am giving this land to my children, but you’re going to lead them in and do the fighting.”
When God shows us in person exactly what he’s doing and how he wants it done, he comes here in the flesh and blood of Jesus. He wants us to see him in action, up close. He wants us to understand. And what we see and understand is Jesus recruiting apostles and disciples to join him in bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to earth.
Jesus heals the sick because there is no disease in heaven. He feeds the poor because there’s no hunger in heaven. Jesus raises the dead because there aren’t any cemeteries in heaven. He turns the other cheek because there is no violence in heaven. He eats dinner with everybody because there is no discrimination in heaven. Heaven on earth. That’s the mission.
Jesus then sends his disciples out with the timeless charge: I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do the same things I’ve been doing! Go! Go do it! I am with you always! And, remember, you didn’t choose me; I chose you! You are the light of the world! You are the city on a hill! Your good deeds bring praise to our Father in heaven!
Every one of us is on a mission from God. None of us is exempt. The Bible calls us ambassadors for Christ. It says we’ve all been given God’s ministry of reconciliation. Jesus says, on that last day, the King will judge us according to who’s on the mission and who’s not.
The people living in darkness need to know there’s another way. And God calls you and me to communicate it. To live it. In a world driven by division and hate, we demonstrate unity and love. In a world built on violence and maintained by punishment, we embody peace and forgiveness. In a world that thrives on judgment, we are a people of grace. In a world that teaches us to take and to look out for number one, children of God and followers of Christ live to give and to consider the needs of others more important than our own. In a broken and fallen world where the evidence of the brokenness surrounds us, we don’t go out and pick a fight; we go out and live the Gospel! We join our God on his mission.
The most dangerous thing we can do is play it safe. We can’t do that when we’re on a mission from God. Today and every day we sail out into the storm trusting our God who said, “I am giving you this land!” We trust our Lord Jesus who said, “I am with you always!” And we trust the Holy Spirit who is already out there, way ahead of us, preparing the good works in advance for us to do.
Nothing can harm us, nothing can stop us, nothing can slow us down, because we’re on a mission from God.
It’s 1,052 miles to Chicago (which has absolutely nothing to do with this part), we’ve got a full tank of Holy Spirit power, a heart for the people God puts in our path, it’s a dark world… and we’re saved by God and called by him to be light.
How do you make every member of your church understand that all Christians are missionaries? How do you adequately communicate, so that it sticks, that all children of God are called to join his salvation mission? Yesterday at Central, we distributed $15,000 among every one of our members and guests in the worship assembly and asked them to use the money to bless somebody this week in the name and manner of Jesus.
The $15,000 came from our foreign and local missions committees — $7,500 from each — and was split up and stuffed into the envelopes on Thursday. Forty-five of the envelopes contained one-hundred dollar bills, forty contained fifty-dollar bills, and the rest ranged from $40 down to $10. And when the time came toward the end of the sermon yesterday, the shuffled envelopes were handed out to every one of the surprised congregants with a charge to use this money to further the salvation mission of our God.
I don’t know what’s going to happen this week in Amarillo. But the pictures are already being posted and the stories are already being shared on social media with the hashtag #sentbycentral
Families are having important missions conversations. Some of our small groups are combining their money to make a significant Gospel impact in someone else’s life. I don’t know what I’m going to do with the ten dollars I received, but if I believe what I told our church yesterday, that money has been provided by God and I am a missionary equipped and sent by Central to proclaim the Good News.
The truth is there are men and women and young folks in our church who know people I’ll never meet. The circles our people run in contain circumstances I’ll never know about. Every child of God is uniquely equipped to minister to somebody the bigger church just isn’t. Or can’t.
Not everybody can spend two weeks in Kenya every summer. Not all of us can volunteer at HopeChoice or Bivins Elementary every week. Maybe there’s no way you could go to Brazil or teach a class at The PARC or join a medical mission to Guatemala. So you don’t feel like a missionary. You don’t see yourself on mission.
The Bible calls us ambassadors for Christ. It says we’ve all been given God’s ministry of reconciliation. Jesus says on the last day the King will judge all of us according to who’s on mission and who’s not.
I hope that yesterday we equipped our people and inspired them to see themselves as missionaries. I pray that, as a result, hundreds of people in Amarillo and beyond will be blessed by our God this week to experience his love and grace through his children at Central.
We’ve made the book of Revelation too complicated. I love what Randy Harris says about it. He claims the whole book of Revelation is super easy. It’s only got three points:
1) God’s team wins.
2) Pick a team.
3) Don’t be stupid.
Revelation reminds us of the promise and shows us the hope. Revelation reveals to us God’s ultimate goals for his people and all of creation and shows us what it looks like when it’s ultimately fulfilled.
Revelation gives us one of the most stunning, creative and beautiful pictures of Jesus Christ and his eternal Kingdom in the whole Bible. It’s a masterpiece. Yes, some of it’s pretty wild. But the overarching point is about the conflict between good and evil. It’s about the cosmic clash between the kingdoms of the world and the Kingdom of God. And it tells us — no, it shows us! — that the best and only hope for us and the world is Christ.
Our God’s mission is to bring all things in heaven and on earth together in Christ. As children of God and followers of Christ, we join him in that mission. We’ve given ourselves to that mission. And Revelation shows us that mission when it’s finally and fully accomplished.
The vision in Revelation informs and empowers the Church’s mission. We know what God has done in the death and resurrection of Jesus and we know where this whole thing is headed. We’re compelled by the current realities and the future realities to teach and heal, to encourage and comfort, to sacrifice and serve, to show the love of God and to share the victory of the Lamb with others here at home and to as much of the rest of the world as we can.
Every time a church is planted, every time a hungry child receives a meal, every time a missionary is trained and sent, every time a sick person is healed, every time a sermon is preached, every time a homeless man is brought into Christian community, every time a Bible is opened in another language, somebody is brought face to face for the first time with the power and love of Jesus Christ. Somebody gets the idea that this world belongs to God, not to the forces of evil. Somebody begins to believe that there are promises and there is hope because the Lamb of God is on the eternal throne and the situation here is not all there is.