Part 1 Having Gospel Conversations
Learning a New Language
Learning English was relatively easy for me. I’m not sure why, since I don’t have a knack for languages. So maybe it was the age I came to Canada that allowed my brain still to be molded with relative ease.
Maybe it was the amazing ESL teacher I had at the time. Mrs. Krause was Indian and yet amazingly Canadian, and spoke the language well enough to teach it to others.
Maybe it was the fact that I was thrown into the deep end of the pool and told to swim, meaning, from the very beginning I was thrown in among all the other English-speaking people and thus immersed in the language all day long.
Regardless, the bottom line was that in less than two years I had a good grasp on the language and could hold a conversation with the best of them.
There’s nothing like being in a different culture and being able to speak the language, right?
I think of Sean Fast. Six months in, I wonder how he is doing with French. There he is, supposed to be a missionary among the Muslims of Paris, which means he needs to speak French, and in a hurry.
In fact, we heard from him just this past week on this very topic and this is what he had to say:
“There are days when I can’t believe how much I understand of this new language or can't believe that I've made some amazing friends already, and other days when I can’t believe how little I can speak this new language or how I have only managed to make 4 really good friends. I have days full of joy, and days full of discouragement; days of success and days of failure. When I go to the grocery store and am completely misunderstood, or can’t make the joke that I want to make with the worker, I am frustrated.” Sean Fast
Speaking the Gospel!
In some ways we are also like Sean. We’re struggling with finding language, finding the right approach, the right words to convey the answers to some of life’s biggest questions.
We may master everyday English well enough and we may sound and look like everyone else, but one of the greatest struggles we have is to become fluent enough with the Gospel to articulate and share it naturally and with ease.
Ours is the frustration that Sean feels, on how to articulate the Gospel in everyday language so that those around us understand it.
He says, “When I go to the market and have a short conversation with someone and can’t articulate myself, and can’t explain why I am standing on the street telling people that “God loves you!” it’s really frustrating.” Sean Fast
So this idea of gospel fluency resonates with us. It’s one thing to be fluent in English, French or Spanish, but are we also fluent in the Gospel?
How well do you speak the Gospel? What do you mean: ‘How well do I speak the Gospel? I know enough to tell others they need Jesus too.’
That’s not what I mean. That’s not effective communication. While it’s true that people the world over need Jesus, it needs to be said in such a way that it makes sense to where people are at and in such a way that people can respond.
You find an excellent definition of effective communication on Wikipedia:
“Effective communication occurs when a desired effect is the result of information sharing. This effect ensures that messages are not distorted during the communication process. Effective communication should generate the desired effect and maintain the effect, with the potential to increase the effect of the message. Possible purposes might be to elicit change, generate action, create understanding, inform or communicate a certain idea or point of view.”
So, effective communication is not just to convey information but to do so as to “elicit change, generate action or create understanding.”
The first communicators of the Gospel were masters of this art.
They elicited change. They generated action. They created understanding.
Jesus and his contemporaries were masters at taking a timeless message that had no culture nor language attached to it, and shaping it into their time and space in such a way that people understood and responded.
Events at the Day of Pentecost
A great example of that was what Peter was able to accomplish in Acts 2. In this case he speaks to an entire crowd of people but it doesn’t really matter if it’s a crowd, or one on one.
“Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd.” Acts 2:14
By the time he is done it shows you how effective his communication was:
“When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.’ With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.” Acts 2:37-41
This is what I would call elicited change, generated action, created understanding! That’s effective communication.
I won’t bore you with Peter’s discourse, except to say that he managed to tap into the cultural and religious vein of his day in such a way that there was a huge response, much of it favorable.
With it, Peter becomes one of the earliest people who showed incredible gospel fluency. He knew how to have the timeless Gospel message speak into the cultural nuances of his day.
Peter does this again and again and again, be it in front of huge crowds, one on one, or in small groups.
He takes a timeless message and makes it fit into a particular culture or need that was obvious. He was incredibly Gospel fluent!
While he knew how to shape the gospel into a particular culture, which is something we need to figure out as well, and which is at the heart of this series and also in the training component of our upcoming Awake Niagara outreach in April, I also want you to see the role of the Holy Spirit in all this.
The Role of the Holy Spirit
Peter would have not have had the kind of success he did, had it not been because of the support and work of the Holy Spirit.
This is not just Peter being smart any more than it is about you and I needing to be smart. Sure we need to learn the Gospel in order to speak it, but this is not only about human language skills.
The ministry of the Holy Spirit in all of this cannot be underestimated.
This was after all on the Day of Pentecost, the day when the Holy Spirit was first outpoured into the hearts of these believers, making them incredibly effective witnesses.
True to Jesus’ promise that they would “receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you and you will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8), they became incredibly effective Gospel advocates in their day.
In fact, it’s been suggested that the speaking in tongues that occurred at the Day of Pentecost was as much about a supernatural prayer language, as it was a supernatural endowment to speak the timeless Gospel in the languages of those gathered that day.
When those in the Upper Room “began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” it becomes quickly obvious that they were speaking not only in the languages of those present that day, but declaring the wonders of God in such a way that people became interested saying, “What does this mean?”
This was the very thing Peter capitalized on in his remarks.
None of these guys were smart enough to boldly proclaim the timeless Gospel in multiple languages. No doubt, this was the work of the Holy Spirit.
This was an amazing convergence between a group of people with deep interest in spiritual and religious things, with a group of people who had the tools and ability to relate spiritual insights in a way that resonated deeply.
Behind it all, and invisible to most was the work of the Holy Spirit.
What gives us a leg up when it comes to gospel fluency and looking for those God connectors with people, is the work of the Holy Spirit.
Not only will he empower you to be his witnesses and prompt you what to say, the Spirit will also have prepared the very people that he is bringing across your path.
The Spirit is God’s force and power on earth. Without his work we wouldn’t have the wherewithal to come to Christ and to live effectively for him including being his witnesses.
He leads us into the truth we need to know. He opens our eyes to understand the Gospel. He creates the opportunities to share the Gospel. He gives us the confidence to approach people. He gives us the ability to speak timeless Gospel truths into specific needs and situations.
Then he works in the lives and hearts of those who received the truth leading them to a point of conviction, conversion and assurance of spiritual life.
It is what Jesus referenced in John 16 as the work of the advocate, who will stir the hearts and minds of unbelievers regarding sin, righteousness and judgment.
“Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment.” John 16:7-8
His work has to do with creating a deep dissatisfaction with life, a hunger for a better way of living, and an urgency that this needs to happen sooner rather than later. That’s what it means to reprove the world of sin, righteousness and judgment.
He is the great advocate and master planner behind this idea that God wants none to perish but all to come to repentance.
I want you to see how the Holy Spirit is all over this! He is the great advocate. He is the master planner. He wants everyone to taste a new way of living.
Toward that end, He will empower you, equip you, open the doors for you and will have prepared the hearts of those long before you get there.
The Ethiopian Eunuch
Another great example of this is found in Acts 8. This time it’s Philip in a one-on-one situation with an Ethiopian government official who “happened” to be travelling through the same area where Philip was.
Let’s listen in on the story:
“26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza’ 27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch.”
You can be guaranteed that this angel either was the Holy Spirit or was sent by the Holy Spirit to maneuver Philip to be at the precise place where this man would be.
“This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet.”
There is a whole back-story behind why this man went to Jerusalem to worship, and ends up reading the Book of Isaiah.
I bet that in his mind are questions about his dismal life, a better way to live, and a sense that this needs to happen soon. In other words, the work of the Spirit is in the hearts and minds of seekers around sin, righteousness and judgment.
Look at what happens next:
“29 The Spirit told Philip, ‘Go to that chariot and stay near it.’
30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ Philip asked. 31 ‘How can I,’ he said, ‘unless someone explains it to me?’ So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.”
This is the place where Gospel conversations happen. He invited Philip to engage him. Nothing pushed; no one was cornered or pigeonholed. The man came up to Philip!
This is easy; as it always is when the Holy Spirit opens doors.
Philip steps through the door, speaking his language and starting with where this man’s mind and heart were at, he built a bridge toward Jesus.
“35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.”
The result was that this man gave his life to the Lord and did what all first time followers of Jesus want to do, and that is be baptized.
“36 As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, ‘Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?’ ”
That sort of scenario plays itself out again and again in the pages of the Book of Acts, with the disciples and followers of Jesus.
The Family of Cornelius
Another great example of this is with the family of Cornelius in Acts 10, this time again with Peter.
Not only is Peter prompted by the Holy Spirit to go to Cornelius’ house, but Cornelius himself was being prompted by the Holy Spirit with his own issues of sin, righteousness and judgment.
So the Great Advocate sets up this God-moment where Peter visits Cornelius and speaks into Cornelius’ concerns and struggles. He built a bridge toward Jesus, with the end-result being that this entire family came to faith in Jesus.
“44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in tongues[b] and praising God.
Then Peter said, 47 ‘Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.’ 48 So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.” Acts 10:44-48
Bringing it Home
I could go on with stories after stories, all of them very similar in nature, but I need to bring this home.
So now, fast-forward 2000 years into 2015, where after months of polite silence from your elderly (and clearly non-Christian) next door neighbors, one day you and they meet at the fence, taking out the garbage, and they make a comment that they may die soon. What do you say? Where do you take it next?
Or you’re shopping in the local mall and a clerk can't help but strike up a chat and she ends up sharing that she came to work today feeling lost - her life is not working out - and there you are! What do you do?
Or your colleague at work obviously seems distressed and confides in you that her teenage son has been caught again with drugs, and that she feels she is losing control and lost and has no idea what to do next. What do you say?
These real moments come a dime a dozen and require a response. What you don’t do is:
Ø make an appointment for a more convenient time to tell them about Jesus
Ø pull the 'fire alarm' and call your pastor or give them the pastor’s business card.
Ø miss the opportunity to 'love your neighbor’
So how capable do you feel in taking advantage of these opportunities? What limits you from being effective?
Over the course of the next couple of weeks, that is exactly what we will explore with the hope that we will have the basic confidence that we can share the story of our faith in Jesus in a clear, concise and compassionate way.
Ø To do it clearly – no awkward silence, fumbling for the right words, or churchy jargon.
Ø To do it concisely - 3 minutes. The time it takes to make a soft-boiled egg.
Ø To do it compassionately - not an arrogant download or an "I'm better than you" lecture; but that you actually care, and engage the person with real concern for their personal and spiritual condition.
But for this morning, regardless whether you think you have the tools and skills or not, what I want you to walk away with is that sense of confidence that comes in knowing that heaven has marshalled all its resources to work in and through you.
In fact, it will be as Jesus said, “The Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.” John 12:12 and “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses.” Acts 1:8
Effective witnessing starts and ends there. You walk in the confidence of the Spirit and the rest will fall into place.
Purses With Holes In Them
Haggai 1:6-7, Mal. 3:6-12
Influencing the Ebb and Flow of Christ’s Return
Billy Graham, in his book Approaching Hoofbeats, makes the point that throughout history humanity has heard, in various degrees, the distant sound of the hoofbeats of the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, depending on what was happening on the planet at the time.
If you don’t know who or what the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are, you will find them described in the post tribulation world of Rev. 6. This is where, upon the removal of us as believers and with it the restraint on evil, the world is plunged into a nightmarish tribulation period.
It is the emergence of the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse including the white horse of pestilence, the red horse of bloodshed, the black horse of financial collapse and famine, and the pale horse of mass death.
This nightmarish scenario has been restrained by the presence of Christians all over the world.
Billy Graham’s point was that throughout history the hoof beats of these horses have been heard to various degrees (almost like the minute arm on the doomsday clock being adjusted depending on current world conditions).
What he meant by that is that the closer we have come to Jesus returning to take us away the louder the sound of these hoof beats become.
Graham suggested that we are actually the ones who create the conditions that cause Jesus to come back and take us to heaven.
This is dependent on what we do here on earth, either hastening or delaying his sweet return.
That was the point of the book. Had it come from anybody other than Billy Graham it would have been ignored as the musings of a mad man.
The truth of the matter is that we do control in many ways the timing of Jesus’ return. That the sound of his appearing ebbs and flows just like the sound of the hoof beats come and go, depending on what we as Christians do on earth!
We Have the Means to Do It!
One of the most startling passages of the New Testament is Matthew 24:14, which is set in the midst of a teaching on the challenges of living in the end times when many will oppose the Christian witness.
“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”
This clearly links the end of this age, which is what the return of Jesus signals, with the gospel being preached in the whole world.
Since it is us who takes the Gospel to the four corners of the world, our commitment to seeing that happen influences the return of our Lord.
If we are not committed to seeing that happen then we in fact can delay the return of our Lord.
Now it’s true that no one knows the hour nor the day when the conditions are ripe for his return save the Father in Heaven, but throughout history that moment has ebbed and flowed depending on our commitment to world evangelism.
Sometimes it’s been closer, other times more remote.
The challenge we face is 7 billion people and the fact that God knows no grandchildren; which means each of these 7 billion needs to hear the Gospel in such a way as to make a personal decision for Jesus.
As daunting as that is, the opportunity we have in our times is unbelievable. With everyone wired, we now have the online tools to engage much of this world with the claims of the Gospel.
The Most Expensive Undertaking in This World
Yet doing that is unbelievably expensive, because at the end of the day it is not virtual communities that Jesus had in mind when he told us to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you,” (Matt. 28:19, 20) but real communities.
While going may be virtually easy, especially in the forbidden places of our world, the making of followers of Jesus always happens within physical communities we call local churches.
So while sowing the seeds has, in the onset of the online world become very doable in our days, the bringing in of that harvest, the threshing and the storing, remains as it always has been, namely within local storehouses called local churches.
If the sowing is an expensive undertaking, how much more is seeing viable local congregations established, like this one here as well as all over the world, that can harvest the fields ‘white unto harvest.’
For our church to be a center of outreach that sows the seeds over the airwaves or online, in our neighborhood or wherever we live in such a way that people come to Jesus and grow in Him takes great resources.
Ø To see NEMBY as a place where kids come to faith, or to see the same thing in our Kids Ministry takes resources.
Ø To see us stage a weekly radio broadcast along with online preaching and teaching takes resources.
Ø To launch a weekly food event as a way of engaging our neighbors takes resources.
Ø To see us effectively help people in their faith and to integrate them also takes resources.
Ø And then to have us do that internationally, be it in Thailand, Haiti, France, Colombia or Africa, takes great resources.
Ø For us to partner with Camp Crossroads or Eden’s Spiritual Life Dept. as places for spiritual formation or even to partner with our MB Conference in church planting in Canada takes incredible resources.
All of this is to say that seeing the return of our Lord Jesus Christ in our lifetime is the most expensive undertaking this world has ever seen!
Our willingness to finance the Kingdom of God in this world determines where the ebb and flow of Jesus’ return goes.
Becoming a Kingdom Financier
If you want Jesus to come back sooner rather than later, then help finance the Kingdom of God. If you want to see more and more people come to know Jesus, then write a cheque.
If you want to see churches like this one become viable thriving faith communities where people come to know Jesus and grow in that, then be a financier of the Kingdom.
To do that God wants to change your financial position!
No, not through a lottery win nor through some other windfall, nor by you figuring out how to better hold on to what you have so that you can keep as much of it as possible.
That’s not how God wants to change your financial position. But instead God wants to do it through the tithe, the offering and the seed money.
The tithe is at the heart of God’s financial system, and if you commit to that system you will prosper. No, this is not prosperity gospel or a get rich quick scheme, but instead these are Biblical principles that have withstood the test of time.
If you are a child of God and come under God’s financial system, far from hurting you, tithing will actually prosper you not for prosperity sake but for kingdom finance sake.
“I the Lord do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. 7 Ever since the time of your ancestors you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord Almighty.
“But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’
8 “Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me.
“But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’
‘In tithes and offerings. 9 You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. 10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. 11 I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,’ says the Lord Almighty. 12 ‘Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,’ says the Lord Almighty.”
Lest you think that this was for those under the Mosaic Law and thus doesn’t apply to us, let me set the record straight by reminding you that the principle of the tithe was instituted long before Moses, which is why it says:
“ ‘I the Lord do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. Ever since the time of your ancestors you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,’ says the Lord Almighty.”
Not only was Jacob long before the Mosaic Law, but Jesus was long after it, and it was Jesus who said:
“You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” Matt. 23:23
Practise justice, mercy and faithfulness Jesus says, without neglected the giving of the tenth.
You do that and the Lord will prevent pests from devouring your crops and the vines in your field will not cast their fruit before their season.
You do that and the Lord will open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it!
Not so that we can hoard it, but so that we can bless the nations by bringing the beautiful Gospel of the Lord Jesus to every human being.
Two Financial Systems
The key to this is operating under the system you are in. If you have given your life to the Lord, then you are in God’s financial system based on releasing the tithe. Anything less than that will cause you not to prosper.
If you have not given your heart to the Lord and are not a child of God, then the idea of giving away or releasing the tithe makes no sense whatsoever.
The world does not release finances. The world raises finances. In the world of philanthropy we use the term fundraising and that is what the world does. It raises money.
In the kingdom we do not fundraise, we do fund-releasing.
The world raises funds any which was it can. The mighty dollar rules in the world. So you grab as much of you can get and hang on to as much of it as possible, even if you have to cut corners, cheat a little, steal a little and lie a little.
The world is tightfisted and stingy; it grabs as much as possible and lets go of as little as possible.
This is what the Bible calls “unrighteous mammon” and those who are of the world and operate in the world as one of their own should do quite well in that system.
The Example of Zacchaeus
A great case in point was Zachaeus. The Bible calls him a chief tax collector and a wealthy man. He was somebody who was of that system and operating within its principles of hoarding, cheating and tightfistedness, and he prospered as a result.
He became incredibly wealthy on the backs of the poor. That is the world’s financial system.
God’s financial system is the exact opposite, and those who are in a covenant relationship with God will not prosper if they remain in the world’s financial system of hoarding, being stingy and holding on to as much as you can.
If Jesus is not in your heart then that’s how you get rich. But if he is and you live like that you will never prosper.
Those in the kingdom who operate under its system release their funds. This is called sowing and reaping. You sow and you will reap.
“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Luke 6:38
“One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.
People curse the one who hoards grain, but they pray God’s blessing on the one who is willing to sell.” Prov. 11:24-26
“Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.” 2 Cor. 9:6
It’s like the old saying, “There was a man some called him mad, the more he gave the more he had.”
To the world this seems like madness but to us this is God’s way.
Zacchaeus did exactly that. You know the rest of the story; of how he came to believe and call on Jesus as his Lord, which Jesus confirmed when he said that salvation had come to his house.
What happened is that Zacchaeus moved from the world’s system to God’s system, and with it his financial plan shifted.
Not only did he pay restitution for all this fraud in a way that was way beyond what the Lord required, but he also began to release his finances in a way that he never did before.
“Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor.”
Thus he began to operate within God’s financial system.
I can almost guarantee you that he guaranteed himself a tremendous release of kingdom finance, not for his personal wealth but to finance the Kingdom of God in his day.
I’m not saying that we should all begin by releasing half of our possessions to the Kingdom of God. Zacchaeus was a very wealthy man, and for him to give half of his possessions away was not a problem.
This is not about you becoming poor anymore than this is about giving half of it away.
Releasing the Tithe
The call is release 10%, or the tithe, of all your income into God’s kingdom.
The economy of God is based upon us releasing our tithe, an amount that God has always laid first claim on.
“A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord.” Lev. 27:30
Clearly, the Lord considers the first 10% to be his, which makes this non-negotiable. In many ways, this should be the first payment you make. This is not discretionary money that is left over at the end of the month.
Not releasing it first, is to withhold what God has claim on, which makes it robbery.
I realize that is strong language, but notice what the Lord said in Malachi:
“Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me. “But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’ “In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.” Mal. 3:8-10
So why would somebody on purpose withhold the tithe? No one on in his or her right mind would set out to rob God.
There’s usually three reasons why people without their tithe:
Ø They haven’t been taught this and thus are unaware
Ø They’ve been disgruntled with the church and thus withhold or redirect their tithe as if the tithe belongs to the church
Ø They feel they can’t afford it or seek to find other compensation such as volunteer hours etc.
Rebuking the Devourer
The truth of the matter is that if you are not tithing, then you will feel as though you can’t afford it for the simple reason that the 10% that should have been God’s, you will not be able to use.
It will slip through your fingers and dissipate in front of your eyes. So those who claim they can’t afford to tithe are in a way correct.
Not only is there no financial blessing, abundance and increase but the extra 10% you thought you had will have been devoured.
You can never keep your hands on the 10% that belongs to the Lord. Either you will give it to the Lord or the enemy will devour it.
Do you ever feel as though there isn’t enough? That’s the devourer.
“You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.” Haggai 1:6-7
Tithing reverses that!
By tithing you will stop the devourer: “I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe.” Mal. 3:11
By tithing you will remove the curse: “You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me.” Mal 3:9
By tithing you will open up the storehouses of blessings: “Test me in this, and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.” Mal 3:10
You would not be worse off at all by tithing, since you can’t keep that 10% anyway. But divine protection will come over the other 90%, which will make it feel like 100 % plus, AND the windows of heaven will be opened which will make it feel right off the scale.
Not only will no pests devour your crops and no fields drop their fruit before its ripe – which is what protecting the 90% from the devourer is all about - but also over that 90%, will come the blessing of heaven so much so that the floodgates of heaven will be opened and you will not be able to contain all the blessings!
“Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land.” Mal. 3:12
“Test me in this,” God says. See if it ain’t so!
In doing so, you provide the food for God’s storehouse in terms of releasing the funds to usher in the return of the Lord.
“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.” Mal 3:10
Under The Same Leaky Roof: Stress Mess
The Holmes & Rahe Stress Scale
I have no idea what stresses you out this morning. I have no clue as to what you brought with you and the stuff that you are facing.
Stress can come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from family issues to work things, financial woes, health concerns or just too many things coming at you at the same time.
We all have our stress, but did you know that too much stress can kill you or at least make you sick?
Psychiatrists Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe were among the first to make the connection between stress and wellness.
Working with over 5000 sick people, they determined a correlation between the stress of major life events and its impact on overall health.
What they managed to do is create a stress scale from 0 to 100 of 43 different life-events. They clearly outlined the suggestion that a stress score of over 300 meant at a high risk for an illness, while a stress scores less than 150 translated to a low risk of illness.
This has become known as the Holmes & Rahe Stress Scale.
Near the bottom of the scale are things such as a change in sleeping habits, facing Christmas or even going on a vacation, while near the top of the list is separation, divorce and the death of a spouse.
Take a look at the scale and do the mental math to get a pretty good sense of where you this morning.
My bet is that many of us are facing life events that can quickly push the scale up a notch or two.
The Family of Martha, Mary and Lazarus
If we can only figure out how to live with stress, or perhaps de-stress with the life events near the top of the scale, then the rest should fall into place.
After all, if you can manage the big stressors of life then the rest should be a breeze, right?
At the very top of the scale is losing a spouse. Their research shows that no greater stress is there in life then losing a spouse. It is the life-event that tops out on any stress scale including this one.
From the pages of the New Testament comes a story of a family who faced exactly that, namely the death of someone near and dear. The insights learned by them can certainly help us face whatever stressful life events in front of us.
This is the story of three adult siblings named Mary, Martha and Lazarus, who lived together in a tight family arrangement.
Remember, not all families consist of moms, dads and their 2.5 kids.
Obviously many do. But there are all kinds of family arrangements, from extended families under one roof to blended families, from single parent families to arrangements like this where three adult siblings lived under one roof as a family unit.
At their house, their roof was also leaking as they were being hammered with the incredible stress of their beloved Lazarus so desperately sick that they feared for his death.
“Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” John 11:1, 3
Lazarus was sick. Desperately sick. So sick that the sisters fearing for his life made a desperate attempt to reach out to their friend Jesus whom they knew to be a healer.
This was long before the days of text messaging, email or even phone call. It would take days for the message to get to Jesus and days more for Jesus to be able to get there.
Can you imagine the kind of stress this would cause? It would be near the top of Stress Scale for sure and it would only climb higher as the desperate sickness turned into death.
Everyone Deals with Stress Differently!
In fact, when Jesus finally arrived his friend had been dead for four days already. “On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days.” vs. 17
Holmes & Rahe list the death of a spouse at the very top of the scale. In this family arrangement, Lazarus’ death felt like the death of a spouse.
You can see the stress the sisters felt in their reactions to Jesus when he showed up.
“When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home. “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” vs. 20-21
The one stays home while the other flings angry accusations at Jesus. We’re not sure why Mary stayed home. Some have suggested she may have been sullen or angry and simply refused to see Jesus.
Not so sure about that. I’d like to think she was more contemplative and less impulsive than her sister.
After all, this was the same Mary that sat at his feet listening to what he had to say while her sister was stressing out with all the preparations that needed to be done.
This may point to the fact that everyone deals with stress differently. Martha certainly had her way of dealing with it, and Mary in all likelihood had her own way of dealing with the stress of this incredible loss.
I remember the stress of my brother dying; the many travels from Lindsay to Hamilton; the rollercoaster ride between hope and despair; the heartbreak of seeing him decline; the sheer exhaustion of it all. Talk about stress, especially for his wife who tried to keep the family going while my brother was slowly dying.
Many of you know what I am talking about. You’ve lost parents, siblings, spouses and sometimes even children.
Everyone reacts differently. There is no right or wrong way. For Martha it was this outburst, and for Mary it was a more reflective pulling back.
If Only You Had Cared a Little More!
One of the more troubling things in this whole story is why Jesus waited as long as he did before he responded.
“Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.” vs. 6
Wow, why would he do that? Why not rush over there as quickly as you can and try to prevent his death?
For that matter, why not simply command a healing from where he was? A long distance healing – he could have done that! He is Lord, after all. He can command the healing to happen even over a long distance, right? Jesus could have done that.
But he doesn’t do that. Instead he waits around another two days and when he finally gets there Lazarus has been dead for four days.
The math is pretty simple, isn’t it? Even with leaving right away he still wouldn’t have made it in time. He still would have been dead for two days. The outcome would have been the same. So why the delay?
The context of the story suggests there was immediate danger in travelling but that was not the reason for his delay. When he finally did go, the danger was still there and yet he travelled.
So he comes across as uncaring and even unloving. You can certainly read that in between Martha’s reaction: “If you would have been here, my brother would not have died.”
She might has well have said, “If you cared a little more” or “If you loved him and us a little more.”.
Truth be known, that was also Mary’s reaction. Though much more tempered than her sister and more reluctant to say it, it says that when she saw him, “She fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” vs. 32
Can We Really Trust Him?
Both sisters, as different as night and day, but both have the same reaction; one flinging her words almost in anger, and the other collapsing at his feet as she sobs the same words.
“If only you would have been here. If only you cared more. If only you loved us more.”
It is a sentiment shared by many. Notice the reaction of the people: “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” vs. 37
This feeds into the fear of ‘Can we really trust God?’ ‘At the end of the day, when push comes to shove, will God be there for me?’
Both Martha and Mary’s reactions feed into the fears we all have. ‘If you had been here my brother would not have died.’
Martha and Mary also had their doubts. Thomas wasn’t the only one, and Martha and Mary wouldn’t be the last ones!
This is the fear that all of us have, the fear that at the end of the day I am alone. This fear only makes the stress worse.
A crisis is bad enough. Any of the life changers listed on that scale causes enough stress, and I don’t need the extra stress of fearing I am alone or that God is uncaring.
It’s bad enough that the marriage is in trouble, or that there is sickness in the family, or that I can’t make ends meet, or the mess of trying to blend two families together, or a million other stressors.
This doubt that God really cares for me only makes it worse.
Jesus at The Top Of The Scale!
So let me flip this around and suggest to you what may seem preposterous at first and that is Jesus intentionally waiting until Lazarus was dead as the ultimate demonstration of his love for them.
How on God’s good earth is letting someone die actually helpful? If you had the means to intervene, how would not intervening be helpful?
If nothing else, allowing the sickness to turn into death would push the stress to the highest level possible.
Holmes and Rahe identify the death of a spouse as the highest stressor possible, resulting in a score of 100, while health problems of a family member comes in at 44.
If Jesus had healed Lazarus he would have proven himself faithful at the 44 mark. But there still would have been the question of what about even bigger things. What about life beyond 44?
Above the 44 mark of health problems of family members lie greater stressors of life including facing retirement, getting married, loss of a job, personal injury or sickness, the death of a family member, separation and divorce and ultimately the death of a spouse.
When Jesus allowed the sickness to keep on its natural course leading to death, which in their case was akin to the death of a spouse, it was his way of saying that he was there in the biggest stressors of life.
If he can be there in the biggest stressors of life then he certainly will have no problem being in all the stressors below it.
By allowing the situation to move up through the scales Jesus was actually teasing out the doubt and fears they had that Jesus wouldn’t be there for the top ones.
We are moving up and down that scale all the time like keys being played on a piano.
I don’t know where you are this morning, and which direction things are headed, but there will come times when your life will top out near the very peak of the stress scale.
If you have seen God at the very peak, then you know that it will be nothing for him to meet you at the lower points as well.
I am suggesting this morning that Jesus allowed this thing to escalate so that he could show his great love and compassion for them at their most stressful moments of life.
The Love of God So Rich and Free!
In fact, everything about this story screams the love of God.
“Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” vs. 5
“When Jesus saw Mary weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied. Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” vs. 33-36
Out of his incredible love, he does what he only has done a couple of times and sets aside every natural law in the universe that says we live and then we die; that all organic things must die and that once death has happened the organic side of us decomposes never to return back to an organic state.
That’s the law of the universe. Nothing sets that aside. Except here.
And so as a way to demonstrate not only to Mary and Martha but to every doubting Thomas who has ever lived that he deeply cares and loves us, and that he is in fact even in the most stressful moments of life, he does the impossible and brings Lazarus back to life.
In so doing, he defies every law that’s ever been written, defies the natural order of things and demonstrates his incredible love for Mary and Martha and you and I as well!
38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said.
“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”
40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”
“That they may believe that you have sent me.”
That even Mary, devout and reflective though she was, did not fully believe that God loved her so much that He sent his Son to be with her in every situation of life.
This same love of God is for you and for me in our days so much so that when Jesus returned to heaven he left God’s Spirit on earth so that we would not be alone when all hell breaks loose around us.
John and Sonya
I remember so well when I got the call to go to the hospital in Lindsay. As one of the pastors in town, I was one of the on-call chaplains at the local hospital on a rotating basis.
I got the call somewhere in the middle of the night. I was to come to the Emergency Dept. and to meet with a couple whose baby had just died. I knew I had no words, but I knew I had to go.
The nurse had told me the mother was Catholic and had come to Canada from Austria and that their three-month Down syndrome baby died of natural causes.
When I pulled back the curtain and saw Sonya sitting on the floor rocking her three-month-old dead baby amidst the sobs of a crushed heart, with her husband John as forlorn as she was beside her, all I could do is kneel down in front of her. I told her, in her mother tongue of German, that God loved her baby, loved her and that she was not alone.
Of all the community chaplains I was the only that spoke German the night Sonya needed to know that God speaks German.
It was a turning point, when in her greatest moment of heartbreak and stress, she felt the love of God fill her broken heart.
John and Sonya eventually gave their hearts to the Lord, got baptized and joined our church and became our friends.
Where are you this morning on the stress scale? We are always moving up and down that scale with some near the bottom where life is swell and others near the top going crazy.
You are always going to be moving up and down that scale. As you do, you need to know you are not alone. God loves you so very much and He has always been there even in the darkest moments.
He loves nothing more than to carry you, even you, through the roughest patches of your life.
That single set of footprints that you see in the sand where the sea is the roughest is not because you are alone but because He has carried you and all you see are His footprints in the sand.
Under The Same Leaky Roof
Sometimes the Roof Leaks!
I’m not sure what kind of conversation Mary and Joseph had on the way home.
I’m not sure if the fright and panic of losing a son in a huge city turned into anger and accusation on the way home, and if so, how it played itself out.
I’m not sure what the boy said, if anything, beyond making it clear to his parents that part of growing up meant beginning to make his own choices and decisions.
But can you imagine the kind of stress created with choices made by those we love that actually scare the willy-nilly out of us?
There’s enough potential for stress and conflict in a family as it is without adding the interpersonal dimension to it.
“The strains of keeping a marriage healthy, raising children, and making ends meet combine to make a fertile soil for family conflict. Who’s going to feed the baby at 3 am? Who tracked mud all over the newly-cleaned kitchen floor? Who’s been squeezing the toothpaste tube in the middle?”
Then add into that mix interpersonal issues of misunderstandings, missed expectations, people speaking past each other or, worse yet, making wrong decisions!
“When a family is really a family, interpersonal conflict is inevitable. Even the most loving families experience conflict when people live under the same roo.f” Manconi
This is what you saw with Joseph, Mary and Jesus at the temple. An incredibly loving family, and yet there was interpersonal conflict at a stressful moment.
That’s just what happens when you live under the same roof.
Sometimes the roof leaks, and when it leaks it doesn’t mean the house is falling apart or that the roof is caving in, but that perhaps the roof needs some patching up here and there.
“Family conflict does not have to blow a family apart. Through loving patience and understanding, conflict can actually draw a family together.” Manconi
And a great example of how family stress was navigated comes to us from the Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15.
I know that we tend to see this parable only through the lens of spiritual lostness and being found again (“I was lost but now I’m found”). This absolutely is the point of the story.
But I want you to understand that the context in which this happened was a family setting.
As much as the father is a picture of our Heavenly Father, the prodigal son is a picture of people walking away from the Lord with no hope of finding their way back. The older brother is a picture of us welcoming back the lost, but the story, nevertheless, is set within a context of a family conflict between a father and his two sons.
If ever there was an example of family conflict, it was in that family, centered on an incredibly poor decision that the younger of the two sons made.
Most of you know the story of how a son walked out on his family and into the disappointments of a selfish life that just about ruined him; and the tension that follows in welcoming him back home.
Let’s take a closer look at this story through the lens of family conflict and what to do when in it.
When a Family Has a Prodigal
The first thing to consider is the decision of the younger son to leave the safety of the nest for what would be a spectacular crash.
What made him make that decision is unclear but we know that his mind was made up.
With a brazenness that was shocking he demands his share of the estate, something that should only come to him after his father’s death.
This is not just a poor choice but an incredibly self-centered request and a devastating slap in his father’s face.
His only interest was in himself. He didn’t care what it would do to the family dynamic, and the message he was sending in wishing his father dead so as to get his hands on the estate.
All that mattered to him was getting his hands on money that wasn’t yet his, and at an age when it would be squandered instead of invested and stewarded.
This was the epitome of recklessness and disregard of anyone else’s feelings but his own.
Have you ever met people like that? Our world is filled with individuals who make incredibly selfish decisions that cause mayhem and destruction among those closest to them.
A father decides to blow his family apart by leaving. A partner cheats with devastating results. A young person is hell bound on a path toward destruction that rips his parents’ heart out. A parent spirals into substance abuse that tears at the very fabric of the family. I could go on.
Our world is filled with selfish people who have made some of the worst decisions possible, that have not only torn at the fabric of their families but have ripped families apart.
The younger son in this story represents everyone who has ever made an incredibly selfish and destructive decision.
So the question is: ‘Could the younger son have been stopped and talked out of this?’ And the answer is, not in a million years. His mind was made up. He was going to leave, with or without his father’s help.
So what’s a father to do? Well, this father divided his property between them and gave his younger son his third.
In so doing, you can’t help but wonder why the father would allow his son to leave and then agree to the demand that he receive his part of the estate?
That’s one of the most troubling questions in this story.
Legally he could have held on to it, with it remaining in trust until his death.
So why didn’t he? And did he not in some ways enable his son’s downward spiral by providing the financing for it?
Part of the answer is that in some ways the son was already gone. He had already checked out. Forcing him to stay by not providing the means to leave and land on his own feet would have made matters worse.
He would have stuck around hating his father or worse; or he would have left anyway with or without the money guaranteeing his failure from the get-go.
Going Down in Flames!
Regardless though, the story does not end well.
It got bad, and I mean really bad. You knew this was not going to have a happy ending. Even without knowing the rest of the story you knew this was going not going to end well, right?
So let the record show:
“After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.” Luke 15:14-16
That’s bad, very bad. That’s being at the end of your ropes. This is skid row. It doesn’t get any worse than this.
A Jew longing to feed the slop fed to pigs? That’s the bottom.
A Jewish person was not permitted to be anywhere near non-kosher food such as pork. This kid was so desperate that he not only allowed himself to be hired to feed pigs, but that he actually longed to eat the slop fed to the pigs.
He had crashed and crashed hard. And I bet his father knew that this was going to happen. And yet there was nothing in the world that he could do to stop it.
The helplessness of seeing someone’s life going up in flames and not being able to do a single thing to stop it, is heart wrenching.
The bottom line was that he would have left with or without the money. His mind was made up, and he was determined to go, come hell or high water.
You Can Be the Older Brother
What do you do with someone like that? And there will always be someone like that – a child, a spouse, a parent, an ex, a grandchild, an in-law, a friend, or someone in the church.
You could be hardnosed, I suppose. You could slam doors shut, kick them out with the tip of your boot and throw stones after them as they are leaving. You could do any of that.
You could do what the older brother did. He certainly had slammed the door shut. There was no mercy, forgiveness or second chances with him.
His reaction to his brother’s return says everything about him.
“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’” Luke 15:28-30
That’s what I call slamming doors shut. Not a pretty picture, is it?
So you have a choice. You can do what the older brother did. You might even feel justified doing it.
His younger brother deserved what he had coming to him. He blew his inheritance so why even welcome him back?
He depleted the wealth of the estate by a third; they could have made more money with their entire estate working for them, than with just two-thirds of it.
You make your bed, so you lie in it. That was the approach of the older brother.
But is that what God is calling you to be? There are three characters in the story, namely, the younger son, the older son and the father.
This is about what to do with the younger son who turns prodigal. There will always be a prodigal son somewhere.
Somewhere in your life, someone that you know, is going to mess up royally. They are going to betray you, insult you, hurt you and turn on you, or gravely disappoint you.
You live long enough and you are going to come across a prodigal son, be it in your immediate family, your extended family, your circle of friends or your church family.
When you do, you can either be the older son or the father. Which is it going to be?
We talk about the older son being as lost in his self-righteousness, in his harshness and unforgiveness as the younger son was before he came to this senses.
The older son knew nothing about the grace of God. He was as cold and as harsh as can be, and as different from his own father as day is from night.
The father in this story is actually a picture of our Heavenly Father and this older son of his was nothing like him. It’s like he wasn’t even his son!
He was as lost in his harsh unforgiveness, as his brother was in his debauchery. The difference was that his brother came to his senses, while he never did.
Is that who you want to be? Lost in service, lost in your rights or do you want to be “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.” Psalm 103:8
If God has shown you his grace, his love and his compassion, then you will want to be how that father was!
You Can Be the Father
And what the father did was do whatever it took for a soft landing, pray that he comes to his senses, and leave the porch light on.
The hope was that his share of the estate would give his son a cushion and a leg up. While it may look like enabling, I can guarantee you that his father was not looking to finance the lifestyle of debauchery his son had embarked on.
He was still going to be there for his son, even a son as bad as him. And in doing so, he kept the back door open and the porch light on.
Playing hard ball would have meant slamming the door shut and turning off the porch light, with no chance of that son ever finding his way back should he ever come to his senses.
Sure enough, when that son finally came to his senses, he made a beeline directly for that porch light.
“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.”
Luke 15: 17-20
You gotta love that he came to his senses, right? We wish that every one of our prodigals would come to their senses.
In fact, I wish that people would come to their senses before they become prodigals. How nice that would be.
Sometimes though it takes having to crash hard before you wake up. Bottom-line is he woke up and came to his senses, right?
You knew that this was a different son from the arrogant, selfish son of his days at his father’s house. He had learned his lesson.
He wasn’t looking for another free ride. He would be happy simply being a servant.
Instinctively he knew where to turn to, namely his father. His father who did not throw stones after him nor slam doors shut but who took the high road and thus kept the porch light on.
The moment he woke up, he saw that porch light. He knew that his father would welcome him back.
Sure enough, notice what it says: “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” Luke 15:20
While running toward his son, throwing his arms around him and kissing his dirt, this was all about the porch light being on and the hearth lit. Seeing him while he was still a long way off in the distance, was all about prayer.
You see, not only do you do everything you can to provide a soft landing, and not only do you keep the porch light on, but you also keep your eyes of prayer on the horizon for any sign of his return.
“While he was still a long way off, his father saw him.”
That’s prayer, my friends. Prayer is looking for and seeing the prodigal before he ever sees you. Prayer is the eye of faith that scans the horizon for any sign of a return.
He could have had his eyes elsewhere. He could have had his eyes on his remaining son and on the work at hand and would have been surprised with his son at the door.
But he was none of that. No surprise. He was expecting his son.
With eyes of faith, he prayed for his son’s return even as he scanned the horizon and saw the signs of his returning long before the son was ever at the door.
Friend, are you prayerfully scanning your horizon for any sign of the prodigal’s return?
What It Takes To Be a Father
I want to bring this home today. It really comes down to who you are going to be. You are either going to be the father in the story, or the older son.
It’s doubtful that you are the prodigal. You wouldn’t be here in church if you were a prodigal, unless of course you are and have come to your senses and have found the porch light on at our church.
And I would say to you, come on in if that’s you!
Oh my, what an answer to prayer that would be! I want our church to have its porch light on.
I want us to have a reputation as a place where the porch light is on and the hearth is warm. I want us to be known as a warm, welcoming place for the prodigals. I would die for that.
This morning though, the question is in your reality: ‘Who are you?’ In your family, in your circle, and in your group and tribe, what are you? Are you the older brother or are you the father?
Wouldn’t you much rather be the father in this story? Wouldn’t you rather be the father toward all the prodigals who have ever walked out on you?
The only way to do that and to be that is by letting God be a Father to you.
It’s far too painful and nearly impossible for you to be the father image to those who have hurt you without you first allowing God to be your Father. We all need to be reminded that He has forgiven us, so we can forgive those who have hurt us.
So this morning, to be that father figure, you need to turn your heart toward your own Heavenly Father!
Under The Same Leaky Roof: Growing Pains
The Challenge of Parenting
The day we lost Mandy was a frightful moment. We turned around and she was gone. Just like that. Of all the memories I have of raising our kids this one is among the strongest.
I see it as though it happened yesterday. It happened at the Pen Centre – at Sears on the second floor. Mandy couldn’t have been any older than four or five, maybe six.
We got wrapped up in a purchase; thought she was behind us and when we turned around she was gone in a crowded store.
I have no way of describing the feeling of shock and panic that set in. We couldn’t find her. We frantically looked around, shouting out her name.
This is certainly a parent’s worse nightmare, with all kinds of crazy thoughts racing through your mind
This beautiful little girl, with her curly hair, was gone just like that. Lost Mandy. Unbelievable.
Lucky for us she didn’t wander far. We quickly found her, and all was well again. But the fright and shock of it didn’t leave for a long time.
In some small way it reminds me of the time when they lost Jesus.
You know the story. He was 12 years old, travelling for the first time with his parents to Jerusalem, and don’t they promptly lose him!
The good news is that they eventually found him again; and with it, the story provides us with some incredible insight into Jesus’ family dynamic that can actually be helpful in how kids are raised in our days as well.
Raising kids is never an easy thing. It wasn’t easy then (as we shall see in a few minutes), and is certainly not easy today.
Having kids is easy. Doesn’t take much at all. Raising kids, especially raising successful well-adjusted and confident kids, is another matter all together.
In fact, raising kids successfully can only be determined once that child is raised and on their own. Any tyrant can keep a kid in line. Any bully can make sure their kid is on best behavior.
Thus well-behaved kids, while important, are not indicative of successful parenting.
Well-adjusted kids, who are confident in themselves and have the tools to make the right decisions and lead successful lives as young adults and adults, point back to successful parenting in the formative years.
I realize there are always expectations. There are some incredibly successful and well-adjusted people no thanks to their parents. As there are people who struggle with right life choices, even though they had incredibly successful and loving parents.
But all in all, there is a correlation between well-adjusted people who are making all the right choices and loving, supportive parents backing them up in their formative years.
I realize there are many things that undermine successful parenting.
Even though we have learned better parenting skills than the days of the switch or stick, and kids are better protected by law against abuse at home, there are a number of things working against successful child rearing.
Everything from the financial insecurity of the working poor, the instability of new family units such as single parents, blended families and same sex parents, to the need for both parents to be working creating a latchkey culture, all work against successful child rearing
Not to mention kids growing up way too soon with incredible negative peer pressure starting at younger and younger years. And then there is the easy access of the internet, with all its dangers and foibles, and this certainly means that families have their challenges.
Parenting has never been easy and isn’t easy today. Any help we can get is appreciated, right?
The Family of Jesus
Which is what makes the story of Jesus at the temple so compelling.
It’s a great story of family life, full of incredible nuggets of insight that have stood the test of time.
In many ways the story transcends time and culture and lands with a thud squarely in the middle of 2015.
Just begin to add it up for a moment: A blended family, a child whose father is someone else’s, the rough and tumble of teenage life, missed communication between the parents, differing expectations.
Or how about providing guidance to a child without being overbearing, or just the struggle of letting go of a young person growing up?
This is all within the context of literally losing a child in the midst of a huge crowd in a foreign city! This is the stuff of great story!
So let’s take a closer look at this.
“Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom.”
It would be a very typical journey. An annual pilgrimage that was routine and predictable. It had been done many times before.
The only exception was that their first-born accompanied them for the first time. This was Jesus at age 12, on the verge of adulthood.
As was custom, families travelled by gender. The men and older boys were in one group, and the women and children in the other group.
It’s interesting actually that Jesus is referred to in this story as both a child in vs. 40 and a boy in vs. 43 pointing to this in-between stage of childhood and adulthood, which can be a worst time in a young person’s life.
As a young teenager he could have been travelling in either group with mom thinking he was with dad and dad thinking he was with mom.
So he slips through the cracks and ends up being with neither group deciding instead to hang back in Jerusalem, not to get into mischief or trouble, but to satisfy his spiritual curiosity.
“After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.” Luke 2:46-47
This shows incredible spiritual insight for a 12 year old, but he still faces the consternation of parents who lost him for three agonizing days.
That was the story. Now, let’s take a look at the issues that surfaced and the life lessons learned.
Miscommunication and Missed Expectations
The first thing has to do with missed communication.
“After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day.” Luke 2:43, 44
You can just about hear it:
“I thought he was with you. I thought he was with you. Can’t even look after your own child!”
“Supposed to be with the women and children.”
“No, he’s not. He’s supposed to be with the men and older boys.”
And then, when they asked him why he did what he did, his response was: “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” Luke 2:49
“How are we supposed to know that? We are not mind readers!”
The language points to obvious miscommunication. Phrases such as “they were unaware”, “thinking he was in their company” and “didn’t you know” all point to not communicating clearly.
If only he would have told them. If only they would have made their expectations clearer. If only they would have communicated to each other about travel arrangements, etc.
So many of the struggles we have with people comes from a lack of communication.
Nick Stinnett in his book Secrets of Strong Families points two six qualities found in strong families among which is communicating. “They spend a lot of time talking and listening”, he writes!
Obviously, there was not much talking and listening happening the time they all traveled to Jerusalem.
You have to talk. Talk it through. Don’t assume. Communicate your expectations, needs and frustrations. The worst thing you can do is bottle it all up inside and assume that everybody else should know.
I have not found anyone yet being able to read someone else’s mind!
Closely tied into miscommunication are missed expectations. There were expectations that simply were not met.
Again, the language points to this: “thinking he was in their company, they travelled on for a day”. They assumed he was with the other. She expected Jesus to be with Joseph, while Joseph expected Jesus to be with Mary.
The same thing again with Jesus. Listen to the language: “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” vs. 49
He thought they knew, but again no one was a mind reader, and unless you tell him or her how will they know?
Proper communication spells out clear expectations, which avoids the kind of situations created once Jesus was located.
“When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” vs. 48
Communication so as to create clear expectations is key! Especially as children grow older.
From Child to Young Adult
That’s the next thing I want us to see. This was not Jesus the child. This was Jesus the boy growing up fast and furious and with it the need to readjust parenting for a new reality.
When children become young adults the relationship shifts.
It takes on more of a horizontal feel than a vertical, top down look.
It moves away from a more direct control of “children obey your parents” to a more indirect persuasion and influence.
A child becoming a young adult becomes more independent and requires the freedom to venture out on his or her own.
Sure the nest is still there, but the kid’s got wings, and soon enough he or she will begin to flutter on their own.
A wise parent realizes this and gives the child the freedom!
Jesus was beginning to flutter his wings of independence and the last thing he needed was to have his wings clipped by overprotective parents.
His parents, particularly his mother struggled with letting go.
Her response to Jesus gives away her struggle: “Why have you treated us like this?” vs. 48 “Why? Because I am becoming a man and need my freedom, mom.”
In fact, what was happening was that primary allegiance was shifting away from his parents and toward his own sense of calling from God.
“Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he was saying to them.” vs. 49, 50
This says it all. They did not understand how his allegiance was shifting away from their house and influence to the Father’s house and His influence.
Mary really struggled with letting go, as do many moms. But a wise mom and dad know when to release the ropes and let the bird soar.
This doesn’t mean that the parents are absent. This is certainly not the last we hear or see of Mary.
But she moves more and more into the shadows, into a supportive role. Yet she remains there for her son all the way through to his own death, as any mother would.
Even adult children still need the support of their parents. A wise young adult or even adult doesn’t throw off the guidance and wisdom of parents who have travelled this path before.
I think there is great value in Paul’s admonition to children:
“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise-- “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” Eph. 6:1-3
I love the interplay between obedience and honoring. This is the progression in the development stages of the child.
While there is a place for children to obey their parents while young, as the relationship shifts and matures from child to young adult, the interactions shift from blind obedience to a place of honoring parents.
It’s a lifestyle marked by an attitude of honoring the parents even later in life and even when those parents were not perfect.
A life long attitude of honoring parents creates the platform for a long, productive life.
“Honor your father and mother so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”
You certainly see that with Jesus. In his independence he still honored his parents! In fact, he did more than honor. He was still obedient as much as he could without losing the pull toward God.
“Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them.” vs. 51
This is still that in-between stage between child and young adult and hence the need for obedience, even though for all concerned the ground had shifted.
Upon his return, he would be different than before he left but not rebellious nor reckless.
Still committed to following his parents instructions, but also everyone knowing he would be more and more about his Father’s business.
To his mother’s credit, she was able to make the adjustments needed. Notice how it says, “His mother treasured all these things in her heart.” vs. 51
That’s her way of making the necessary adjustments, providing greater freedom, and realizing that there is a call on Jesus’ life beyond her own.
This wasn’t always easy for her. There were times when she wanted to take back control. An interesting story emerges out of Mark 3 where early on in Jesus’ ministry his mother came to probably try to take charge of things.
Oh Mary, didn’t you know that he has to be about his Father’s house?
Dear mom and dad, the same for you! This child is not your own. You have your child but for a season. They never were your possessions.
They were entrusted to you so that you could provide the necessities of life and more, much more. Those early years are the most critical years of a child’s life.
You instill the confidence or the lack of it. You can raise a child in the way they should go or you can break their spirit.
Paul says you can exasperate them, crush their spirit and kneel on them until they are broken, resulting in a ruined life, or you can nurture them in the things of life and of the Lord and see them flourish and come into their own.
A Word to the Fathers
As we close this morning, I’m not really sure where Joseph was in all of this. We certainly don’t hear and see much of him in this story.
This seems to be very much about Mary. Mary this and Mary that, but where is Joseph?
Mary spoke up when finding Jesus. Mary treasured all this in her heart. Mary even spoke for Joseph (“Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” vs. 48)
Sure hope this isn’t what I think I’m reading. You know, of a wife who speaks on behalf of her husband, without letting him speak, or of an overbearing wife and absentee father.
This could also have been about the fact that this was Mary’s child and not Joseph’s; and her first-born to boot.
Might have been as much about struggling to let go, with a dash of overbearance, than a husband AWOL.
But it does raise the question of Joseph. Joseph, the stepdad. Joseph, in the shadow of Mary. After all, the pair is known as Mary and Joseph and not Joseph and Mary.
It raises the issue of fathers stepping up; of fathers and mothers both playing their roles, with mothers letting fathers and fathers letting mothers be equal partners in the relationship.
While it’s possible to raise a child as a single mom, it is far easier when both dad and mom raise their child!
So this is a call for moms and dads to be engaged.
This is also a call for parents to shift the relationship from vertical to horizontal the older the child gets.
This is a call for a child to obey and a young person to allow for guidance provided that the parent has the best interest of the child in mind.
That becomes actually key. Parents must have the best interest of the child in mind.
A child cannot obey an abusive parent anyone more than a wife can submit to an abusive husband.
Thankfully we have laws in our land that increasingly protect from abusive parents and spouses.
In fact, all of this breaks down if the roles aren’t played to God’s standard. Children are not expected to obey a father who is an abuser or a bully.
The entire structure of what I’ve built up in this sermon falls apart if there is abuse, neglect or harm inflicted.
The family, while the primary unit in society, is not above the law. God has intentionally provided for good laws and governance so as to protect the family from even itself.
“For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” Rom. 13:4
Paul is very clear on this. If a law is broken, the church has no authority.
The church is not God’s servant, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer when a law is broken! That belongs only to the state.
The first thing the church does when it sees abuse is call in representatives of the state which are the police.
Undue harm has been done when churches do not report abuse and take matters into their own hands.
Doing so means being in clear violations of God’s order and the result is mayhem, broken lives and the destruction of family life. I hope that is clear enough J!
A New Dedication!
As we close, let’s dedicate ourselves afresh to the Lord. As a father, mother, grandparent or child and young adult.
Let us allow the Lord to rule and reign in us so that it would go well with us and we enjoy a long life, or as was the case with Jesus:
“And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.” Luke 2:40
Here you can find several messages. Feel free to write your thoughts or questions in the comment section.