Heaven is just as scary as hell.
That’s what I used to think.
As a human, I have a very hard time wrapping my mind around eternity. I’m bound by time and space, so to imagine a place without a ticking clock makes my mind want to implode. It wouldn’t matter if that eternity was delightful or torturous, just BEING in a place for that long was the terrifying thing.
Maybe you share that fear.
Over the years, God’s been working that out in my heart. Psalm 84 helps, especially verse 10. I think of that when I get nervous about the scope of eternity.
“For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.”
I think of my very best day on earth. Maybe you’d imagine a moment shared with a loved one who is no longer around. Maybe you think back to the time you couldn’t stop laughing with your best friends. Maybe you reflect on the moment your sweet baby was brought into this world and your eyes shone with joyous tears. I stretch my picture to a thousand of the same kind of days and dream that I’d never get used to the joy I felt then. Then I think back to Psalm 84 and realize that a thousand of these moments don’t compare to one with God.
Moments of joy are real in this lifetime, but are often interrupted by real life: tragedy or regret, pain or loss. But eternity promises us that our joy will never be interrupted.
Each day, if there are such things in heaven, we’ll say, “This was the best day.”
I can deal with that kind of eternity.
An Easy Button. Wouldn’t that be great? I’ve often thought that if only life was like a video game, where when you make a fatal mistake…wala! A new life appears. Or when we were kids and the outcome just didn’t work out well in some game we played, someone would yell “do overs!”
I think a lot of us would love an Easy Button that would reverse any negative effects from all of our lousy decisions. I've heard people say, “I wouldn’t change anything” or “I’d do it the same way all over again.” Well, I'd personally like to do some things over again if I knew what I know now. Alas.
So where does this lead me? First off, it leads me to make careful, well-thought out, heavily adviced, decisions on all the big things in life: what career to pursue, who to marry, where to Live, when to have children, and what church I should attend and commit to. Yep, it’s true that decisions are one time things with a rarity of “do overs.” We have to be careful with our big decisions. Here’s five thoughts for you to consider when facing a big decision:
- Pray thoroughly over it. Get peace as you consider whatever it is.
- Study the Scripture to see if there are any principles that you can bring to bear on it.
- Ask 5 people, older & wiser than you. If you get a good consensus, it’s a safe bet to follow that.
- Wait. Wait on the Spirit for confirmation of what you’re leaning toward in the decision.
- Watch. Watch for windows to open and more importantly close on these decisions.
No easy buttons here…but decisions in life need to be well thought out and covered in prayer, study, wisdom, and the Spirit all the while being self-aware of what that said decision really is setting you up for.
For those of you not wanting to do the work above…good luck finding a reset/Easy button. Let me know if you find it.
Who would lay down their life for people they don’t know? The answer is that no one would. Period. I love a lot of people, but to take my son and send him to certain death in order to save people who don’t deserve it, won’t appreciate it fully, and I have little connection with. Ugh. Doubtful I’m doing that!
Yet God does exactly that and more. He sends His Son who dies even though He didn’t do anything wrong and yet suffers horribly…for strangers...like you and me. Wow. What motivates that kind of love? It’s not like God needed to make Man to make him more satisfied. God was totally self-contained, self-aware, and self-satisfied in other words He was a-okay as He was… but He makes man anyway! Why? What motivates Him to do that? Only one thing: His love for His creation. PFR, the very talented Christian band from the 90’s wrote a song called “That Kind of Love," but it talks about the way Jesus died upon the cross for all of us. The writer says He’d give anything to see “Him, face to face” in order to thank Him, but also to ask what is the motivated for “that kind of love.” Check that out, it’s a great song to boot!
The reason Jesus died for you and me is because He wanted to. Love runs in His blood (1 John 4:2). He is love. He is motivated to our highest good. Why? Because his object of love is us…how much more valuable is every individual of His creation! Immensely valuable, not of our own right, but because of who Jesus is.
Jesus laid down His life…for you! Put a smile on your face, for you are loved!
I have this friend. For anonymity's sake, we'll call him Kevin. Kevin loves people. He is outgoing. He is the guy who notices if you got your hair cut. He is the guy who sends flowers cut from his own garden and delivers homemade dinners for you when your mom is sick and goes into the hospital. And the gifts this guy gives? I mean, THE BEST. Kevin is top notch.
But for some reason, people don't like Kevin. They accept his gifts with disdain and while enjoying their new sweater, iPhone, Cuisinart Mixer, etc., they talk poorly about Kevin behind his back. He mentions their hair cut and they are bothered that he noticed. People throw his flowers away and they let his dinners get moldy. When he asks them to hang out, they say no.
But Kevin, being his top notch self, keeps joyfully and lavishly giving intentional gifts, compliments, and shoulders to cry on, even if he gets denied or abused for the blessings but not the friendship.
Kevin is foolish, right? He gives and gives and gives and gives. And for what?
This story of Kevin is my figurative and poorly exercised portrayal of God. He does what Kevin does. He loves people, notices them, gives them gifts and blessings, pursues them, and understands them. I watch us respond in disdain and annoyance. Sometimes I think, "how foolish, God."
But God is not a fool. I'll never understand why he keeps on loving us. But He does. And He doesn't just give us random gifts. He gives us His most precious thing: His son. Most of us can barely part with $5 for the homeless. How much less willing are we to part with our most precious possessions? God gives away his most precious possession to claim for Himself a bunch of true fools: us.
No, I'll never understand this thing called love.
The past seven weeks have been exploring Missional Life: Next Leveled. We’ve seen the Evil Knievel posters and heard stories of our very own “Evils” on how they’ve next leveled their missional life. We’ve heard from Pat, Greg, and Ed Kelley on how to up the ante in our prayer lives, our faith sharing, or our generosity.
But hearing other people’s take on missional life isn’t enough. Sitting in the auditorium hungry for the sermon isn’t enough. Here’s the real question: what are YOU going to do about it now?
Living missionally doesn’t need to be a paradigm shift (although it could be). Really, it’s a series of small choices and actions that break the selfish habits we’ve created over our lifetime. And we’ll only be successful if we ask the Holy Spirit to help.
A missional life means…
- seeing and valuing people as God does
- praying for our unreached friends and family
- noticing the people of peace around you
- preparing to share your faith
- sharing your faith with others
- making room for new friends
- being generous with your money for Kingdom purposes
I bet one or two of the items on the list burn hot into your heart. Which of these is your current challenge? Which is God laying on your heart to embrace? What is stopping you from taking the next step in that direction? Family, let’s not let this sermon series fade out to black. We can choose to change, to be different, to challenge ourselves to take it to the next level. It is possible, with His help.
When we change, our families change. When our families change, our neighborhoods change. When our neighborhoods change, our communities change. And all for His glory.
That should be our missional life, next leveled.
As I am confronted with Jesus’ masterful story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10, I find myself relating more and more to the attorney whose question initiates it. “Who is my neighbor?” he asks. And Jesus, wanting to reveal the true nature of the man’s heart, tells the now familiar story.
When you reflect on the characters of the story, perhaps you more naturally identify with the Priest or Levite, who when confronted with the naked, beaten man, chose (for whatever reason) not to help him. They may have justified their lack of response by rationalizing things like, “I am too busy,” “I have a schedule to keep,” “I don’t have the time, the money, the availability,” or “I can’t help a person like that… I just have to keep moving.” These are things that people can (and often) say. But unlike the Priest and Levite, I don’t think we are really that hard hearted. I think people want to help, want to serve, want to do well. And in some small way, I think the attorney’s question to Jesus may have reflected that. He just had the wrong paradigm in mind. See, the question he was asking was a “do” question, not a “be” question.
Ironically, when it comes to living a missional life, that is usually what I ask. I say, “Jesus, just tell me who I should serve, love, help….and I will go do it.” Then once it is done, I can check that box and get back to my normal life. Like the attorney, I want to do good. I want to help and serve those in need, but I’d like to do it on my terms. And for me, that is a way of checking a box, not living a life. That is doing and not being.
When mission is reduced to task, it actually undermines the very nature of serving, loving, giving. In the end, it wasn’t the task that needed to be accomplished, but the person who needed attending. As illustrated in the story, the Samaritan was inconvenienced, had to change his agenda, had to actually get dirty and help. The scriptures say he had compassion on the beat up man. These are characteristics that exceed the work of task and instead, demonstrate the same type of love that Jesus has shown to us. I believe it was the lack of this very nature that Jesus was highlighting in the life of the attorney.
Personally what has helped me in the past (and what I need to do in the present because it is still a challenge for me) is to make adjustments in my life so that I have the space (and time) to have a friendship, similar to my existing friendships, with someone who is far from Jesus. Otherwise, being missional never gets out of the “box checking” task mode. In the past I have said no to some good things (and good people) so I could say yes to those far from Jesus, but close to me.
If living the missional life is just another thing to “do,” perhaps it is time to think of it in a new way. Perhaps Jesus is revealing in us our propensity to “do” mission rather than “be” missional. And assuming we are not as hard hearted as the Priest or Levite, then maybe it is time for us to be the Samaritan and love our neighbor.
By Brian Hopper
About: Brian Hopper is a Missional Community Pastor at Bay Area Community Church.
Now that I have your attention with this statement of truth, we can move on to more important matters that Ed Kelley got right this weekend: being aware of people.
People are everywhere and it is actually quite difficult to avoid them. But it is all too easy to be unaware of them. To be aware of a person, we must press through simply observing that they exist and move into the heart space of actually caring that they exist. If we are not intentional to take this posture, people can become just another part of a constantly changing landscape, background music playing in an elevator, or the B-roll footage that provides filler from scene to scene.
But people are not filler. People are made up of persons and each person has a story, a struggle, a sadness, and a joy, just like you. Each individual that you will ever see is under a curse of sin and oppression from its effects, just like you. Each individual you will ever see is created in the image of God, just like you. Each person you will ever see needs redemption, just like you. Every person you will ever meet needs Jesus, just like you.
Living a missional life is impossible without being aware of people. Caring about the individuals that God puts in our paths will compel us to engage, to speak up, to share in way that moves them closer to Christ.
Ed lays out a practical way to speak up called “ROCI” followed by an explanation of the good news from Romans. Check it out here. But if “ROCI” slips your mind, why not start out talking about Ice Hockey, it is after all the undisputed best sport ever.