The past week was a great reminder of just how many people in our congregation really get Jesus’ words: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:23-24 ESV).
In the past week I’ve witnessed people selflessly give of themselves–both their time and their money–to help others who are in need. I was teaching the Bible class when literally half of the class abruptly got up and walked out. At first, I wondered what I said to offend them. In my ten years of teaching and preaching here, I’ve never had a group just up and walk out. Then I saw the reason–a recent widow walked in the door and they ran to embrace her, cry with her, and pray over her. My heart smiled at the disruption and it reminded me of how well our congregation loves others.
Several people personally handed me money to help various people in need. Others quietly gave and did not let their left hand know what their right hand was doing. We received a beautiful card in the mail from a church member who lives in another state. I’ve heard of so, so many stories of people who have received phone calls, visits, emails, and even money from church members.
This congregation is heeding the words of Jesus to deny yourself, pick up your cross daily, and follow Jesus.
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The message is clear that there is a great cost of being a disciple of Jesus. Christians are promised persecution and there is so much we need to sacrifice. One of the costs (and great blessings!) is taking care of the poor. With the cost comes reward. Jesus said, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Luke 12:32-34 ESV).
The Bible is pregnant with references to caring for the poor–to those in desperate need. Those who are sojourners, poor, oppressed, and destitute, are described in the Bible as our neighbors. We are commanded to love and care for our neighbors, to lend to them and not expect anything in return.
Caring for the poor comes with a cost, but is not meant to be burdensome. In fact, over and over we are told to give joyfully and to lend with an open hand. When we store up treasure in heaven, we do so by helping those in need. Jesus took it so seriously that, in a scathing dialogue, he specifically mentioned the sorting of the sheep and goats by whether they cared for the poor and sick or not. These are not suggestions in the Bible.
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Themes are a great way to walk through the Bible with a different lens and they help us focus in on something that’s really important. I like annual themes because it makes sermon writing have purpose and direction. As I thought about where we are as a congregation and where our culture has shifted over the last few years, it became abundantly clear that God was whispering that people need to be loved so they can see Jesus!
With so many stories about abuse, sexual exploitation, and the dramatic rise in drug overdoses and sex scandals, the church is in the absolute best position to reach out to their neighbors. While some are bent on preaching about the woes of the world, Jesus took a different approach. He lived out the greatest commandments–loving God and loving your neighbor. The command to love is as old as time. Jesus told us that all the law and the prophets are hinged on these two commandments. I’d say that makes them pretty important. . . the most important!
I love how blunt John was when he makes the distinction between children of God and children of the devil: “By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:10).
In 2018 we will commit to practicing righteousness and loving our brothers and sisters. There will be no excuse for not doing so. We will share testimonies of lives that are transformed, and we will let God do his miraculous wonders!