Acts 5:33-42

            People talk about things which are important to them.  Even quiet and introverted individuals will speak at length, barely taking a breath, if you get them on a topic they are passionate about.
            Today’s New Testament lesson has the Apostles speaking incessantly about someone they love to talk about.  In fact, the Apostles (the original disciples of Jesus) talked so much about what they loved that the Jewish ruling council of the time (the Sanhedrin) wanted to shut them up by killing them.  But a wise member of the council saw the foolishness of this and persuaded them against it.  Instead, the council gave the Apostles a thorough whipping, warned them to stop talking all the time, and let them go.
            There is a time to listen, and there is a time to speak.  The Apostles could not keep silent.  They considered their beating an act of solidarity with their Lord Jesus and went right on talking.  The text says: “Every day they spent time in the temple and in one home after another.  They never stopped teaching and telling the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.”
            The joy of knowing Jesus – crucified, risen, ascended, and coming again – is such a full experience that one cannot help but talk and speak about him incessantly.  Even in the face of persecution, the ecstasy of knowing Christ transcends physical pain and suffering.
            Consider the Apostles, and think about the church today.  There are places throughout the world where the scenario of constant chatter about Jesus is taking place with joy, despite the presence of persecution.  There are also places, mainly in America, where talking about Jesus does not even take place in the church building where believers gather to worship, let alone out in the public square.
            The great tragedy of the contemporary Western church is that you can talk about only the weather, the latest sports, political happenings, and get away with never speaking about Jesus.
            Today, allow two different emotions to sway your prayers and speech.  First, allow the joy of the Lord Jesus to fill you and give you freedom to speak his Name and the grace he gives to others.  Second, allow a sorrowful lament to rise from your heart and speak it out loudly before God concerning the great silence of the church in the West.

 

Loving Lord Jesus, you save completely those who come to you by faith.  Thank you for the work of forgiveness and healing that takes place in your Name everyday in the world.  Yet, I also lament the many confessing believers in your Name who never speak of the good news in their everyday conversations, even at church.  Lord, have mercy.  Christ have mercy.  Lord have mercy, and grant us peace.  Amen.

Romans 15:14-21

            Paul was an apostle, that is, a person commissioned by God and sent to the Gentiles – people other than the Jews.  Through Peter, and then Paul, the good news of Jesus spread to persons that were beforehand considered unreachable.  Paul saw himself as having no limits as to who could hear and respond to the gospel of forgiveness in Jesus Christ.  He understood himself as standing between heaven and hell, interceding and pleading on behalf of people who need their lives changed through Christ.
 
            It is quite possible that there are persons in our sphere of influence in which we think that they would never respond to the message of Christ’s redemption.  In this holiday season of the year, in which we remember God’s loving gift in the humility of God becoming man, it is far too easy to lose sight that at that Christmas party, family gathering, and interaction with that person in the long shopping line, there are those who need Jesus – and we will never know if God is wooing them to himself unless we share life with them.
 
            Perhaps we need to see ourselves as Paul did – standing in the gap and always trying to find ways to proclaim the gospel to people who require deliverance from empty ways of life.  That cousin or uncle, that co-worker or friend, and that neighbor or new acquaintance, can be forgotten by us as to their ultimate and most real need to discover faith.  We, my friends, are the conduit that God has ordained to bring his life-giving message to people all around us – people for whom we might have already written off as unreachable.
 

 

            We praise you, O God, for the ministry and success of your servant, the Apostle Paul, through whom we who are Gentiles owe our own faith and calling.  Grant us a vision like his, the conviction and commitment to pursue it, and the grace which confirms and prospers it.  Amen.

1 Corinthians 9:19-23

19 I am not anyone’s slave. But I have become a slave to everyone, so that I can win as many people as possible. 20 When I am with the Jews, I live like a Jew to win Jews. They are ruled by the Law of Moses, and I am not. But I live by the Law to win them. 21 And when I am with people who are not ruled by the Law, I forget about the Law to win them. Of course, I never really forget about the law of God. In fact, I am ruled by the law of Christ. 22 When I am with people whose faith is weak, I live as they do to win them. I do everything I can to win everyone I possibly can. 23 I do all this for the good news, because I want to share in its blessings.
 
            What will it take?  What will it take to win the world for Jesus Christ?  What will it take to win your neighbor?  What will it take to win your relative, co-worker, or friend?  It will take becoming a slave.  That is, winning others to see the glorious and incredible good news of forgiveness and new life in Jesus takes giving up our rights and our freedoms in order to have a ministry of presence.  We have to be around other people in order to win them.  That’s why winning the party-crowd takes going to the bar.  It’s why winning young moms takes sitting with them at the park while the kids play.  It is why it takes being present among people in the community in order to reach them, instead of wishing that people will magically show up at church in order to experience our friendliness.
 
            The turn of thought that we need is this:  Other people do not need to show up on our turf and become like us.  Instead, we need to show up on their turf and become like them.  If it weren’t in the Bible we would think it blasphemous to say such a thing.  But there it is, and we must wrestle with its implications for our lives.  So, what needs to change?
 

 

            Merciful God, you want to cut me into the action of what you are doing in the world.  Help me live wisely among those who don’t yet know you, so that they can see the light of Christ in me, hear the words of Christ from me, and experience the salvation of Christ.  Amen.

Acts 26:19-29

            Paul was quite the guy.  He was a zealous missionary to Gentiles, indefatigable, and an intense type-A kind of dude.  But it wasn’t those characteristics that Paul was looking for others to see in him.  Paul simply wanted others to see Christ in him.  Having been arrested for preaching the gospel, Paul found himself before King Agrippa making a strong apologetic for Christian faith.  The DTR talk is one worth examining and emulating.  Agrippa’s response to Paul was, “In such a short time do you think you can talk me into being a Christian?”  Paul answered, “Whether it takes a short time or a long time, I wish you and everyone else who hears me today would become just like me!”
 
            I wonder how many of us could confidently say the same thing as Paul.  Are we the kind of Christians that we would want others to emulate?  Has our faith journey led us to the place of being a solid model of what a follower of Christ should look like?  Do we expect others to change while avoiding change ourselves?  Do we deeply desire and work toward others coming to know Jesus?  What is on your wish list?
 
·         I wish every non-Christian in my community would come to know Jesus as the gracious Savior and risen Lord of their lives.
·         I wish every single member of my church would spend all their relational and emotional capital in this life leading others to Jesus Christ.
·         I wish every person I encounter would have the merciful privilege of knowing Christ like I have been privileged to know Him.
·         I wish all my parishioners would become just like me, except, of course, for my self-made chains.
·         I wish every person on planet earth would become a Christian.
 

 

Risen and ascended Lord, you are the king of all creation.  May your rule and reign take over my life to such a degree that everything that comes out of my mouth, and every action I take would be worthy of emulation in your way of love.  Amen.