Care for Creation Poster

We’ve had some requests for a copy of the Poster regarding “Going Green” to be posted, so here it is courtesy of Lloyd Fisher-Jeffes.

 

A few ideas for caring for Creation.

 

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Care for Creation

Genesis 1:27-31 / Romans 8:18-22

(I am much indebted to John Ortberg and an excellent talk I heard from him for a substantial percentage of the meat of this message)

There are those in the environmental movement who would say that the real danger to the environment actually comes from the Christian faith. As long ago as 1967, a scientist named Lynn White wrote an article in Science Magazine in which he went back to Genesis 1:28 where it says that God gave man dominion to rule over the earth. White said that along with Christianity came the idea that nature is not sacred it is just disposable, and that human beings are not really a part of nature, they are above it, and so nature exists just as a thing for people to use and exploit. He said that is what characterizes Christianity and that it is this system of thought that is the real problem for the wellbeing of the planet. Unfortunately a lot of people in the environmental movement, who may not know much about Christianity, were very influenced by this article and they came to see Christianity as an obstacle to caring about nature.

 

What we will discover today from Scripture, however, is that the truth about the Christian worldview is actually the polar opposite of what Lynn White was saying … and that in many ways the Christian worldview is fundamentally important to successful caring for the environment. Stuart Pimm is a Professor of Conservation Ecology at Duke University in the States. He was interviewed by the New York Times a while ago about his work, and at the end of the interview they asked him, “Are you religious?” His reply was, “I’m actually a believing Christian and Christians have an obligation to care for the planet because it was made by God and does not actually belong to us. So we cannot simply fail to care for the oceans, or forests, or creatures. That would be to fail to fulfil our obligations to God.”

As Christians, our concern for the earth is not blocked by our faith; it is actually triggered by our faith. Christianity actually offers the single best perspective from which to view and care for the earth.

In the Bible, there is a vision of creation and how creation is a part of the glory of God which will take your breath away, and help you to love God more. So that is what we are going discover in this sermon. We’re not talking about the environment, environmentalism, ecology, human or political agendas … today we’re talking about the wonder of God’s creation and our role in caring for it.

 

1. Creation belongs to its Creator

Now very interesting…in the Old Testament, there is no word for nature, there is just the word creation… because the word creation carries a certain significance. It’s a Biblical word that makes a statement. If there is a creation, then there is a Creator, and the Creator isn’t us.

 And then another important Biblical word is creature.Creatures are beings that are given the gift of life by their Creator in order to reflect and participate in something glorious. There are old hymns that have this language. “All creatures of our God and King, lift up your voice and with us sing, Halleluiah!” Creatures are somehow meant to reflect, to praise, the glory of God.

Then there are human beings, and the Bible says human beings are part of creation, but we are a special part that reflects the image of God in a way that no other part of creation quite does. We are creatures gifted by our Creator with the capacity to reason, to choose, to communicate, to invent.

The Bible has a truth to declare that transcends politics or legislation about who the world belongs to. Psalm 24:1 says, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” Psalm 50:10 says that God declares, “…every animal in the forest is Mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills.” Or this from the prophet Haggai 2:8, “‘The silver is Mine and the gold is Mine,’ declares the LORD Almighty.” The Bible is really very clear on this. Who does the earth belong to? It belongs to God. It doesn’t belong to us. It is not ours. This is what Christianity teaches.

There is one more staggering verse with an incredible claim about Jesus and creation. This is from Colossians 1:16: “For by Him [that is, Jesus] all things were created: things in heaven and things on earth, visible and invisible…all things were created by Him and for Him.”

This truth led the Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper to say, “There is not one square inch in all creation over which Jesus Christ does not cry out, ‘This is Mine.'” This is a wonderful thought. Not one square inch in all the cosmos over which Jesus doesn’t cry out, “That’s Mine, that’s Mine, that’s Mine. I made it, I care about it. I love it!”

Every bird you hear, every tree you see, every sunset you enjoy, every carpet of grass you walk on, every blossom from every plant that enhances your experience, every lungful of air you suck into your body, was made by Jesus and for Jesus. And this truth transforms creation from being just matter … to being something of inestimable value. Creation belongs to its Creator … its not o urs to do with as we please.

 

2. Creation brings God pleasure

The Bible also has something very important to teach us about the purpose of Creation. Creation is NOT just an accident or a matter of pure chance! Contrary to much of what contemporary science believes in its philosophical approach to nature. Creation is deliberate and it has a purpose! There is this refrain in the book of Genesis: “And God spoke…and it was so…and God saw that it was good.” It repeats throughout the creation account. Then at the climax of all of that, at the end of Genesis 1 it says, “God saw all that He had made, and it was very good.”

 There is a reason why we humans love our world. I mean, anybody here not love mountains, and oceans, and sunsets, and trees? Think of the people who stream down to Hermanus to watch whales. People love whale-watching. But so does God!! Psalm 104:24-26 says “How many are your works, O Lord! In wisdom You made them all; the earth is full of Your creatures. There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number … the leviathan, which You made to frolic there.”

When whales frolic in the sea, when they spout, when they breach, when you see their tails, it makes God happy. God made them to frolic. We love little aquariums where we can see fish for a few moments. God has vast seas full of them and He never grows tired of watching them swim and frolic; that is our God. It’s not just that He enjoys them, there is a deeper connection. Creation was ultimately made for the pleasure of God … for God to delight in what He had made.

Does that not give Creation tremendous value … it is an object of God’s pleasure. Last week we saw that God delights in children. Today we learn that God delights in His creation.

 3. Creation reflects Gods glory

And then the Bible also teaches us that creation reflects God’s glory. Psalm 19: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech…” Now what does it mean to say, “Creation declares the glory of God?” Let’s look at it like this.

 What do parents of little children put on their fridges? They stick up art…their children’s drawings.

Now objectively speaking, are those drawings great art? No. But the parents love it because it is an expression of their child. That’s the way it works. If you love the artist, you love their art.

God creates and it is good…not accidentally. God wasn’t wondering if it would be any good. It is good because it is an expression of God and God is good and God is beautiful in every respect.  Therefore we ought to allow creation to point us to the Creator and have creation lead us to wonder, and gratitude, and joy, and thanksgiving for Who God is! His Creation is His painting that expresses much of Who He is!

Jesus would very often go into creation to the mountains, or to the side of the lake, or to the wilderness, or right at the end of His life, to the garden … when He wanted…with particular intensity to experience the presence of His Father. We can do the same. We can go into Creation with a deep desire to experience the Creator … and we will. Creation will speak to us about the Creator!

You cannot go into creation without seeing an expression of the Creator; it’s Jesus’ handiwork. The medieval church said there are two great books of God. There is the Book of the Scripture and then the Book of Creation. Psalm 19 is a lovely Psalm that focusses on both the creation and the written Word as reflecting God’s glory. Have a look at it some time.

So sometimes go to the mountains, go to the oceans, sit in the garden, walk in the Newlands Forest, climb up Lion’s Head, look at the ocean from Cape Point on a clear day or watch the clouds come sweeping over the mountain … and take the Bible with you, and read the little Book while you sit in the big book. The old hymn says, “This is my Father’s world. He shines in all that is fair.” Let the book of His creation lead you to the Writer of the book.

When you study creation, you study the mind of God. When you protect creation, you protect the work of God. When you admire creation, you admire the goodness of God. And when you love creation, maybe you begin to go a bit deeper on the journey of loving the Creator. Our world needs to hear this. This is God’s creation; it’s not just nature, it is creation.

 4. We serve God by stewarding Creation

Christianity teaches we are stewards. We’re not owners and we’re not just consumers, we are stewards. Genesis, chapter 2 actually says, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden to work it and take care of it.” Now that verb “work” can be translated, to serve and that little phrase “take care of” actually means to “keep”. It’s translated in the great blessing in the book of Numbers: “The Lord bless you and keep you.” That is the same word: take care of you. What God is going to do for us in this great blessing, we are to do for God’s creation.

 Adam’s job was not to exploit the garden, and certainly not to destroy the garden. It was to make the garden flourish.

Psalm 8 says, “…what is man that you are mindful of him? [Yet] You have crowned him with glory and honour. You have made him ruler over the works of Your hands…all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the fields…”

Humans have a unique worth because we reflect God’s glory in a unique way. Jesus said: “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” Human life is more valuable than the life of a bird…and we all know this…but that is not bad news for the bird. According to Jesus, who is feeding the birds? “Your heavenly Father feeds them.” And we are God’s image and God’s managers on the shop floor of Creation.

When you put out a bird feeder, in some strange way you are joining the work of God. In the Old Testament, God lays out for people what ruling over creation is supposed to look like, and it is quite fascinating. God says, “Six days do your work, but on the seventh day do not work…” Why? “…so that your ox and donkey may rest.” In other words, if you’re a donkey, you hope your owner gets converted. Good news for human beings becomes good news for creation, even good news for donkeys.

God tells Israel every seven years they are to leave the ground unploughed. The ground is to have a Sabbatical. Why? Exodus 23:11: “Then the poor among you may get food from it …and the wild animals may eat what they leave.” People choosing to live God’s way is good news for the poor, it is good news for the soil, and it is good news for the wild animals.

Deuteronomy 25: 4 says: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” The idea here is that farmers knew they would be able to squeeze out a little more profit if they would put a muzzle on the ox while it was threshing the grain because grain was more expensive. Just let the ox eat grass later on. God says, “No. Be generous with the ox. Let the ox have a little grain and you’ll entering into generosity for the whole earth that reflects Me.” If you are an ox, you hope you are sold to an owner who loves God.

There is a verse in Deuteronomy 20:19-20. God is giving instructions to people when warfare is going on and He says: “When you lay siege to a city for a long time, fighting against it to capture it, do not destroy its trees by putting an axe to them… Do not cut them down. Are the trees of the field people, that you should besiege them? God is saying, “I know you are a violent people … one day when you’re ready for the fullness of the revelation of Who I am we’ll get to “Turn the other cheek”, when Jesus comes. But in the meantime, be careful of My trees. Keep your hands off My trees.”

One part of loving God is caring for the earth because it’s His and because He has commanded us to KEEP it for Him. Richard Foster writes, “We plant evergreens and compost garbage, we clean a room and put coasters under glasses, and in these ways we help to tidy up Eden.” Love that phrase we help to tidy up Eden. These are little things, but with God little things can be used by God in other ways. It is possible…when you save energy, turn out a light, or insulate something, or recycle something, or save a little water, or figure ways you know, to create energy…it can be a little act of worship that cares for creation and blesses the Creator.

 6. Sin is the problem for Creation too

Then Christianity teaches…another a real important part of nature that doesn’t get taught elsewhere… creation is under a curse. It’s really good, but it’s not the way it is supposed to be. Francis Schaeffer wrote a Book about 40 years ago called, Pollution and the Death of Man. Here is a part of what Schaeffer wrote, “If you say that there is no God at all, nature is all there is, or if you make nature God and worship it … there is a problem. And the problem is, there is beauty in nature, but there are horrible things in nature. There is death and suffering in nature.”

 See, if nature is all there is, and it’s governed by the survival of the fittest, then there can be nothing wrong with the extinction of species? That is how you got here. It’s just species against species; that’s nature. You don’t blame the mongoose for killing off all the snakes; that’s what they do, it’s their nature. If human beings are just a part of nature, you don’t blame one part of nature for killing off another part. You know there may be some people may not like it or they may like it, but it’s just nature.

But the Bible says human beings are fallen, we’re sinful and creation itself has been affected by that fall. Again…way back to the story in Genesis…God says, “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.” There is something wrong now in our relationship with nature, with creation. It will produce thorns and thistles. It’s not the way it is supposed to be. I just think this is profoundly true and our world needs to hear this. It’s beautiful but it is under a curse. It’s not working right. And because human beings are fallen and sinful … we are contributing towards the brokenness of the creation.

Paul says in remarkable words, “Creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.” We know the whole creation has been groaning in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. We see creation groaning. It’s not working right. But Christians are meant to be good news for the environment. Christians are called to minister substantial healing in every area affected by the fall. We are called to work with God to redeem nature from the fall. So Creation groans metaphorically for Christians to be truly revealed …. Because when we are truly revealed we bless creation!! Part of our job is to help nature flourish as God intends it to flourish. We are to honour what God made in the right way.

I love this quote from Schaeffer: “We have the right to rid our houses of ants, but what we have no right to do is to forget to honour the ant as God made it out in the place where God made the ant to be. When we meet the ant on the sidewalk, we step over him.” What if Paul is right? What if in some way ants, and oxen, and donkeys, and trees are waiting for the sons and daughters of God to be revealed…for redeemed humanity to work the garden so God’s creation can flourish?

Then, says Paul, “The creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” Then, says Isaiah: “You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace … and the mountains and the hills will burst into song before you and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. Instead of the thorn bush will grow the pine tree, and instead of briars the myrtle will grow… This will be for an everlasting sign, which will not be destroyed.”

 Let us Christians be cause for the earth to celebrate … and not to groan.

Sharing the Gospel with children

Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Mark 10:13-16

Introduction

We continue with our series on “Sharing God’s love with the world”.

Today we consider one of the most precious mission fields that lie before us. Whereas up to this point in our series we have focussed on sharing God’s love with the hungry (through LUTL), with the needy (through Hanover Park Mission) and even with the community around our church (through the Prayer Walk), today we bring it much closer to home and consider how to share the gospel with children. Now, of course, this is a vast field and I will only touch the tip of the iceberg. But let’s make a start and today particularly take Jesus as our example.

The gospels don’t really give us much detail of how Jesus ministered to children. But of course that would be because He ministered in a day and age when people understood properly their role in bringing up children in their faith. Fathers in families took upon themselves the responsibility that Moses imposed on them in Deuteronomy 6:4-9. They accepted that just as their fathers had done for them, so they too were called by God to tell their children about the wonders God had done for them and to instruct their children in the ways of God and the will of God. “Religious instruction”, if we can use that term, was something that every family did at home and also ensured that their children received through the schools of the local rabbis.

Jesus Himself would have been taught the essentials of Judaism by Mary. Joseph would have taken him to the synagogue with him. Annually they would make their way to the festivals. And when Jesus was 12 He went with them. This is what all faithful Jews did. And so Jesus lived and ministered in an era when the community took responsibility to raise their children in the ways of the Lord. Perhaps this is why the gospels don’t give us much on His ministry to children.

But perhaps we also need to receive that as a challenge to our own faith community in this day and age … where we take so little responsibility for the children in our midst. I remind you again as I did last term that it takes a village to raise a child … and it takes a faith community to raise a child in the Lord. Your own children may be grown up … or you may feel you have your own children to raise in the Lord and other people’s children are not your responsibility. I would beg to differ and would suggest that the Biblical model is that the whole faith community takes a degree of responsibility for ALL the children among us … and those not yet among us.

Now, we find a very important insight in this passage from Mark 10 which gives us one of the very few glimpses of Jesus sharing the gospel with children. It gives us a clue as to how we can share the gospel even with children we have very little to do with. The one very clear thing Jesus did to share the good news of His ministry with children, was to bless them! “Jesus took the little children in His arms, put His hands on them, and blessed them.” (Mk 10:16) And right there in that amazing word BLESS, we find a framework for sharing the gospel with all children, no matter how much or how little we may have to do with them. So the basic message which I will elaborate on in a little detail this morning is this:

One amazing way to share the gospel with children is to BLESS them.

 

The word “bless” has lost a lot of its meaning in our modern world. We use it meaninglessly when we someone sneezes and we respond, “Bless you”. So what does it mean to bless?

The Greek word used in Mark 10 is “eulogeo” which means literally “to speak well of”. In Latin it is the more familiar “benedictio”, which means literally “the good word”.

We first come across the concept of blessing in the Bible when God steps back from his creation on the 5th day, and blesses what He has made. In blessing it, God speaks:

  1. His love for and delight in His creation: He says, “It is good”;
  2. His purpose in that creation: He says, “Go forth and multiply”;
  3. His ability to them to fulfil that purpose.

Then we come across the concept again in the patriarchs of Israel who would call their children around them when they were dying and would speak a blessing over them. And in speaking that blessing, we see the same three elements coming through because they would speak over their children:

  1. Their love for them and delight in them; and
  2. Their belief about God’s purpose for the remainder of their children’s lives; and then they would
  3. Impart to them the means for fulfilling that purpose.

So how are we as Christians today going to share the gospel with children by blessing them? Here’s how…

1.     Tell children at every opportunity how God loves them and delights in them.

You know this contemporary world we live in is a world of destructive words. Children are bombarded with negative input. They are being told by the world around them that they’re too fat or too thin or too short or too tall … they are not cool enough or they don’t have the right possessions … or they’re weak or they’re stupid … or they’ll never amount to anything. Even their humour is destructive.

And the basic message of the gospel of Jesus Christ which we have the privilege of sharing with them is this: God loves you and delights in you … just the way you are!

Friends the word gospel means “good news”. Jesus Christ brought into the world the greatest blessing ever … the greatest benediction – the greatest GOOD WORD – ever … it is a word of God’s love … it is the message that God loves you so much that he was willing to die for you. Right at the very heart of the gospel message is the truth that this child standing in front of me … no matter how clever or otherwise … no matter how physically beautiful or otherwise … no matter how rich or how poor … no matter how smelly … is deeply and thoroughly and completely loved by God!

And to share the gospel with a child begins with sharing that incredible truth with them. You are loved by God and God delights in you! To quote a friend of mine who is an excellent evangelist … he is always telling people and reminding them of this truth … “God thinks you’re awesome!

That is the heart of the message. That is something we can all tell children everywhere … because it is true for all children everywhere. No matter how well or how badly they are behaving … no matter how much or how little they may know or understand about God … and no matter how eloquent we are … we can all tell every child we encounter that God thinks you’re awesome!! God loves you and delights in you!!

When Paul the apostle wrote his letters to the churches of the world, he always started and ended with a blessing. More often than not, the opening blessing was a word of thanksgiving. It was a word of blessing that told the community to whom he was writing what he loved about them … what God loved about them.

Here are some examples:

  • Ephesians 1:15 “I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints.”
  • Philippians 1:4 and 7 “I always pray for you with joy … because of your partnership with me in the gospel … and I always have you in my heart.”
  • 1 Thess. 1:2-4, “I thank God for your work produced by faith; your labour prompted by love; you’re your endurance inspired by hope in Jesus. Brothers, loved by God; he has chosen you.”

So when we tell children that God loves them and delights in them … if we know them a little, we can also take it a step further and build them up in the love of God by telling them what we feel God loves about them. So look at their lives and I would suggest, look for the things God values … not the things we humans value. God values things like love and joy and peace … like patience and goodness and kinidness … like gentleness and faithfulness and self-control.

Our children are perfectly loved by God regardless of who they are. But if a child is particularly friendly, affirm them for that: “God loves how friendly you are.” If they are particularly patient: “God loves your patience.” If they are really gentle the world will normally try to beat that out of them … we should be saying: “God loves your gentleness!”

So number one in sharing the gospel with our children is blessing our children by telling them how much God loves them and what He loves about them.

2.     Tell them about God’s purposes for their lives;

God’s blessing of humans on the 6th day of creation included the command, “Go forth and multiply.”

Likewise, the blessing passed on from father to child on the father’s deathbed usually included prophetic statements about God’s plan for the rest of the child’s life.

Speaking a blessing includes speaking God’s future over the person being blessed.

With most of the children we come across, we will not be able to speak specifically or in any detail about God’s plan for their lives. However, we are able to tell each and every child that God has an incredible plan for their lives.

For every child here’s what we can tell them:

  1. God wants to be your best friend for the rest of your life!
  2. God wants you to invite Jesus to be the Leader of your life.
  3. God wants to fill you with His love and His power!
  4. God wants to give you spiritual gifts!
  5. God wants you to live forever in heaven with Him!
  6. God has already given you talents and abilities that you can use to show the world how great God is!

And when we know the child a bit better we can be more specific. God has given you these spiritual gifts … God has given you these talents and these abilities. If we are in any kind of relationship with that child – whether as a parent or grandparent or even friend – we should be asking God for the discernment to be able to speak specifically into their lives. I believe that as parents and grandparents we should be doing that. We should be asking God to show us His destiny for our precious children … so that we can speak that destiny over them prophetically. It is part of the good news of Jesus for them … Jesus has a plan for their lives, specially tailored to their particular strengths, gifts and abilities … and we ought to be speaking it over them.

Sharing God’s good news … God’s gospel … with children through blessing them includes the key element of speaking LIFE over them … even as the world tries to speak death over them!

 

3.     Give them the means to fulfil God’s purposes for them.

The third, vital element of blessing is to give the resources by which to fulfil God’s purpose.

God told Adam and Eve that His purpose for them was to be fruitful and multiply and manage the earth well … but he had already given them the wherewithal to do those things.

Godly fathers would bless their children by telling them what they believed their destiny was to be … but they would also leave them an inheritance through which to accomplish the destiny with which they had just blessed them.

This may imply a number of different things for us depending on our relationship to the particular child in front of us. But here are a few implications that are always valid:

  1. Pray for them: Pray for them to come to a personal relationship with Jesus. Pray for them to receive the power of the Holy Spirit. Pray for them to embrace their destiny. Pray for them to receive the spiritual gifts and talents they will need. Pray for God to open doors for them.
  2. Tell them how to accept Jesus as their Saviour: Explain in simple ways to children that Jesus has taken the punishment for their sins against God and that if they invite Jesus to be the Lord and Leader of their lives, they will be given the free gift of living with God in their hearts forever.
  3. Teach them what you know about God: Teach them to read the Bible. Teach them to pray. Teach them to worship. Teach them to ask God for advice and guidance. Teach them how to hear God’s voice. Tell them the things you’ve discovered about God. Share with them what excites you about God. What have you learnt to do to deepen your walk with God? Share your relationship with God with them.
  4. Help them to be trained in their areas of strength and gifting: This may mean paying for their schooling … or their music lessons … or their art teacher … or their extra classes … or for their church camps where they can embrace God’s plan more fully. It may mean giving them a book or a DVD or an instrument to play or a computer to use.
  5. Encourage them along the way to press on and continue to do what God has planned for them. It’s easy to become discouraged – especially as a teenager trying to follow Christ – because the opposition is strong and the distractions of the world are so powerful. It’s easy to lose heart in our walk with God … so encourage them whenever and wherever you can to keep pressing on with God.

 

Conclusion

So, although there is far more to sharing the gospel with children than just what I have spoken about today, I do believe that these are vital aspects:

  1. Tell every child you can that God loves them and delights in them;
  2. Tell them about the beautiful plan God has for their lives;
  3. Give them the resources they need to accomplish that plan – especially the resource of a relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ.

Table Fellowship

Matthew 9:9-13; Luke 10:5-9

Today our focus falls on Table Fellowship! “Come to the table” is the invitation. The challenge for this coming week is to invite a stranger to share a meal with you. This might be inviting them into your home … or it might be taking food to them. But the idea is not that we give a handout of food, but rather that we actually share a meal with someone. This is far more difficult and also far more powerful.

In the first Scripture today, from Matthew, we observed Jesus applying this practice. For Him it wasn’t a case of inviting someone to His home, because He did not have one. But He shared table fellowship at Matthew’s home … and Matthew invited his friends and colleagues to come and have a meal with Jesus.

Now this was remarkable because the righteous religious people of the day considered all tax collectors to be unclean. Why? Because they were in league with the Roman oppressors and thus spent vast amounts of time in the company of gentiles … who were unclean. Also, they were co-operating with the enemy … and so they were seen as traitors to the Jewish people. These were social outcasts … hated by many … and not to be associated with by anyone who was trying to build a ministry!

Now you would expect that if anyone went to eat with such people, they would hush it up and try not to be found out. But not Jesus!

The scene of the meal was the outer courtyard of a home. This was an open and semi-public area … so the passing Pharisees were able to see the meal going on. And because it was in the courtyard, it was the custom of the day that anyone could come in off the street. So it was a bit like you and I having a picnic on the front lawn … with an outcast person. Jesus was not ashamed to be having this meal with people who were outcasts in His day. How great it must have been for these “sinners” … for the first time in their careers, a leading religious teacher was associating with them publicly … setting aside the strict Pharisaic laws of not eating with recognised “sinners”, Jesus was openly scandalous.

In the second Scripture, Jesus is instructing 72 of His disciples essentially to follow His example. He is sending them out on mission … a bit like our prayer walkers went out on mission yesterday. And He gives them clear instructions that when they are being hosted by someone, they are to extend peace to that person, they are to eat whatever is set before them, and they are to use the opportunity to minister to them. Mealtimes for Jesus were ministry opportunities … they were a form of mission.

So to Jesus, sharing a meal with someone is far more than just eating together. It is an opportunity to minister to that person in a very gentle … very special … very powerful way. So let’s think about this a bit more together and allow the Word to guide us as to how we should go about taking up this challenge!

 

The Attitude

The first important thing is to get our attitude right. A good action can be ruined by a bad attitude. There are those who give to the poor, for example, and by their attitude of superiority and almost disgust with the poor … leave the poor person they have just helped feeling far worse than they did before they helped them. This was never Jesus’ way.

Jesus went to Matthew’s house … not with the attitude that He was a good person going to be bad people … or that he was somehow doing them a favour.

I believe Jesus went there with an attitude of openness to those who were different to Him. He went there with a willingness to engage with these people … to find out more about them and their lives. He went there with a mind open to learn about these people … he went with a heart open to loving these people … he went willing to make the effort to discover who these people truly were.

And this is the first key attitude we have to have if we are going to minister through table fellowship. We need to have an attitude of openness.

Jesus also had an attitude of mercy rather than judgment. He did not sit with those people thinking of Himself as a morally superior person. The Pharisees came into the courtyard with the attitude of judgment. They challenged the disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus replied, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’”

Mercy is when we do not treat people the way they deserve … instead we treat them with love and kindness whether they deserve it or not! This is the attitude we need towards people we are going to be reaching out to with table fellowship. We are not doing this because they are worthy or deserve it … we are doing it because we are called to act in loving and kind ways towards them. We are not to have an attitude of superiority or self-righteousness … but rather of humility and mercy. We are not eating with them to judge them or to treat them with pity. We are doing it to show respect for their humanity.

 

Isaiah 58:7-10 has something crucial to say about our attitude:

“What I’m interested in seeing you do is: sharing your food with the hungry, inviting the homeless poor into your homes, putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad, being available to your own families.

Do this and the lights will turn on, and your lives will turn around at once. Your righteousness will pave your way. The GOD of glory will secure your passage.

Then when you pray, GOD will answer. You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’ “If you get rid of unfair practices, quit blaming victims, quit gossiping about other people’s sins,

If you are generous with the hungry and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out, Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness, your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.”

Our attitude is to be one of giving ourselves to others in openness, mercy and humility.

 

The Approach

 How do the spiritually sick become healthy? Through a relationship with Jesus! So if Jesus was there to help the sick become healthy … He was there to build relationships with these people. This was also His approach in the way He sent the disciples out. They were to build relationship. They were to stay in one house, building relationship with the owner. They were not to move around from house to house. They were to extend and receive peace from the owner of the house. This is a picture of building relationships.

So when we share table fellowship with strangers … our approach must be one of building relationships. We should be asking questions about them and their families and their lives, out of genuine interest. We should be opening our lives to them and telling them about our families and our lives too. We should be building relationships of true concern with them.

In building those relationships they were also to use the opportunity to reveal the Kingdom of God. Jesus was doing this when he ate with the sinners. Through His presence with them … in a public place … and through the things He said to the Pharisees while at the table … He was revealing:

  • the generosity of God;
  • the openness of God;
  • the non-judgmental mercy of God;
  • the kindness of God
  • in short … the love of God.

And when he sent His disciples out He sent them out to tell people, “The Kingdom of God is near you”. They were also to use every opportunity to reveal the Kingdom of God. They were to be the salt and the light of the world. In their conversations around the table they were to be a godly influence.

So as we share table fellowship with strangers we must bear this approach in mind. We are to do this in such a way as to build relationships and reveal the love of God … reveal the nature of Jesus to these people. We are not there to let them influence us to become like them … we are there to influence them with the love of God.

The Aim

Jesus was very clear about what the ultimate aim of His table fellowship was: It was to call sinners. In Luke’s version, Luke remembers that Jesus said, “I have come to call sinners to repentance. Elsewhere he put it this way: “the Son of Man has come to seek and save the lost.”

 The point is the same no matter how you put it. Jesus was using table fellowship as a means of reaching out to people in order to help them to come home to God.

And this was also the point of His disciples’ table fellowship. They were to be observant as they ate with their hosts and take advantage of opportunities to minister.

 Jesus told them to take the opportunity to pray for people’s healing.

He also told them to take the opportunity to share the good news that the Kingdom of God is near.

These are both aspects of revealing the love of God of course. If as you are sharing your meal in an attitude of openness and mercy and humility … and as you are using that meal time to build relationship and both talk about and act out the love of God … you should learn that this person has a need for healing either for themselves or in their family … would it not be the loving thing to pray with them. Just do it very simply … “Dear God, I lift up John to you. Please stretch out your hand to heal. In Jesus Name. Amen.” Simple. Let God do the work.

Maybe, as you are sharing that meal in love and humility, you learn that this person is far from God. What a wonderful opportunity to tell them about your own relationship with God and how simple it is … “the Kingdom of God is near” … to tell them that getting into a relationship with God is as simple as making a decision that you want to leave behind you the life in which sin rules your life .. and you want to have God rule your life. It is as simple as making a decision to turn away from sin and to ask Jesus to forgive you and to bring you home to God.

We don’t have to complicate things. We have to be straight-forward and simple … as Jesus was.

So as you share table fellowship with someone this week, realise that it is going to create opportunities for you to be a blessing to them by praying for them and by sharing the good news of Jesus with them. Maybe neither of those opportunities will seem to arise … but a simple word in your farewell may be enough: “Just remember that Jesus loves you.” That may be all they need. Because that is the good news. But if opportunities arise then pray for them or talk to them about Jesus. He is, after all, the best thing that’s ever happened to you.

 

Can I get a witness?

ACTS 26

INTRODUCTION

By way of introduction, allow me to set the scene. After his third missionary journey, in around about AD 52, Paul returned to Jerusalem. One day, while he was at the temple, a crowd of Jews stirred up the crowd against Paul, accusing him of turning people against the Law and against the temple. After being violently beaten by the mob, Paul was arrested and taken to the relative safety of the Roman barracks. The next day he appeared in front of the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin. The reaction to his testimony was again so violent that he was hastily removed to the barracks. The following day a plot to kill Paul was uncovered and so he was hastily moved to Caesarea by the Roman commander. Here Paul was imprisoned in the palace of the Roman Governor Felix and the Sanhedrin came to present their case against him. Having heard the case Feilx said he would make his decision, but then proceeded to keep Paul under house arrest in the palace for 2 years.

When Felix was replaced as governor by Festus, Paul delivered his master stroke and appealed to Caesar. Festus granted his appeal and from that moment Paul was destined to go as a missionary to Rome at the expense of the Empire! But before he was sent, King Agrippa visited Festus and Festus told him about this strange case he had, so Paul was called to speak to King Agrippa!

You see the amazing course of events that the HOLY SPIRIT used to get Paul into a position to testify to a king? The Holy Spirit will also use strange courses of events to open up doors for us to share our testimonies and we must make use of the “split second opportunities” such as these.

So when Paul gets this opportunity, he chooses to use his testimony. Now Paul was definitely a Confrontational Evangelist … but he assesses the situation and decides the best way to get through is to be testimonial – to share his own life-experience of Jesus. He realised that Agrippa would be interested, that he would be able to relate to his story as a fellow Jew, and that he couldn’t really argue about it, because it was Paul’s own life-experience.

And so Paul gave a testimony. By doing so he has given us a great example of how to prepare and use a testimony. He also showed us why a testimony can be so powerful. People are interested in our lives and experiences … they can relate to us as fellow humans … and they can hardly argue with what we know is true because we experienced it for ourselves. If you are testimonial in style then this is vital for you … but at some stage all styles of evangelism will use a testimony, and every Christian is called to testify, so let’s all pay close attention to Paul.

BEFORE CHRIST (v.4-11)

In verses 4-11, Paul tells the story of his life before meeting Jesus. And that it where our testimony will also begin. He told Agrippa about how he used to be religious … but he also told about how he had approved of the imprisonment and murder of innocent people. He was incredibly zealous for God … but his zeal was completely misguided and led him to do terrible things in God’s Name. Notice that he does not go into all of the gory details … he does not glorify the wickedness of his past life … which is a mistake many people make … but he does identify the key problem area in his life before meeting Jesus – for him that was his misguided zeal for God. His testimony is a great example of a person who has always been religious, but has never really had a relationship with God.

Every testimony of how we got saved has got to start with an account of what our lives were like before we met Jesus. We might focus on our sinfulness … or on our emptiness without Jesus … or on our sense of meaninglessness … or on our fear of death … whatever the truth is about how our lives were before Jesus. But we must never give Satan glory by dwelling on how wicked we were. It may sound more dramatic, but it will distract people from the main issue which comes next.

CONVERSION (v.12-18)

While Paul’s conversion was a lot more dramatic than most of us will have had, please notice that he does not spice it up with things that never happened. He tells it exactly as it happened, and even cuts out some of the detail that is recorded in Acts 9. He does not need to impress Agrippa … he needs Agrippa to understand that he met the Living Jesus in a particular way. And so he shares his story as it happened. This of course makes our story more believable and more repeatable because we don’t have to keep remembering what we said last time … we just tell it like it happened every time we tell it.

The other point about this section of a testimony is that it focuses totally on JESUS. A testimony is not a testimony in the Christian sense if it excludes JESUS. A Christian testimony is a testimony of what JESUS has done. So if you hear someone testify and they talk about how someone or something else changed their life but they don’t mention JESUS, then you must know that they are not giving a Christian testimony. Our Christian testimony is our account of how we met JESUS!

So for you, maybe it happened at an evangelistic event and then you would say how you heard the message and went forward to pray for Jesus to enter your life. Or maybe it was a slow and gradual process … and then you would have to say so and explain how you eventually came to a point of knowing that Jesus was your Saviour and of asking Him to enter your life as your Saviour.

Notice also that Paul gave specific details. He did not use metaphors like “I was lost but Jesus found me,” or “I was blind but now I see”. He spoke in plain language and told it as it was. This is another important tip for us … avoid religious clichés and “God-speak”. The longer you are a Christian, the more you start to use words NORMAL people just don’t understand. SO focus on keeping it simple and understandable. Don’t say, for example, “I was born again.” Rather say, “I asked Jesus to forgive me and become the leader of my life.” Tell people what happened the moment you met Jesus.

AFTER (v.19-23)

The next thing we have to share as part of our testimony is the difference it has made in our lives. Paul does this by testifying about how he immediately began to preach the good news of Jesus and about the trouble that got him into. Hopefully for us, we won’t need to testify about our persecutions. But notice how Paul did not change the truth to make Christ-following sound more attractive. He did not water down the difficulty of following Jesus … he just told his story. Likewise we do not have to embellish our story to make it sound better than it is. We can just give people an honest account of how following Jesus has impacted and changed our lives.

In Paul’s testimony the only great thing about this section was that he could say: “I have had God’s help to this very day.” You and I can equal that without a doubt and we can probably top it by telling people how Jesus has given new meaning to our lives … how He has filled our lives with joy … or how He has given us a wonderful sense of forgiveness. We may even be able to testify that He has set us free from alcohol or drugs … or delivered us from some particularly debilitating addiction to sin. Whatever this section includes, just make sure it is honest and true to your own experience; and that in some ways it shows that Jesus has touched your life. For Paul he had pointed out his misplaced zeal for God in his life Before Christ. Now he pointed out how God had directed that zeal correctly. This is a great example of having some kind of unifying theme in your testimony. Before Christ I was like this … then Christ changed this into that!

At this point it is probably also right to point out the brevity of Paul’s testimony. It couldn’t have taken him longer than 3-5 minutes to make this speech to King Agrippa. We should also aim to keep it short and sweet. People cannot concentrate for very long and quickly lose interest if we waffle on. So aim for about 3 minutes. Also notice that Paul did not include any Scripture references. There was a lot of Scriptural truth in everything he said, but he did not quote references. And that’s important. Quoting too much Scripture can also put people off. This is not a sermon, it’s a testimony. Just make sure that what you say is consistent with what you know and understand of the Bible.

CONCLUDING QUESTION (v.27)

Because of King Agrippa’s Jewishness, and because he had earlier spoken about the good news in terms of the promises made to the Jews, Paul phrases his concluding question like this: “King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do!” I suppose it’s a bit like a salesman trying to close the deal. But we do need to try to measure where people are at by the end of our testimony. We may choose to be more subtle and ask: “Can you relate to anything that I’ve been saying?” Or maybe something even more natural would be: “What do you think of what I’ve said?” If you feel the person is really ripe for giving their life to Jesus you may ask far more directly: “Haven’t you ever thought of asking Jesus to be your Saviour too?” Whatever it might be for you there just has to be some kind of concluding question to put the ball into your listener’s court.

CONCLUSION

I hope that you can see how easy it actually is to share a testimony. With the few practical tips that you’ve received today I know that you will be able to write your own testimony. If you are in a discussion group then this coming week you are going to be doing just that, and by this time next week you will have both written out and spoken out your testimony to someone in the small group. And the next time you feel the Holy Spirit prompting you to speak, you will be able to make a start simply by sharing your testimony.