The one in front of you

There are big numbers in the book of Acts.

That is, we read about multitudes of people coming to faith in Christ. It’s an inspirational reminder to people of faith. Peter once told people he didn’t know Jesus. In Acts, his first sermon reaped instant fruit. Three thousand people believed in Jesus because of him.

Have you ever failed Jesus? Most likely, you didn’t hear a rooster crow after you did, but Acts reminds us our failures don’t have to be our future. If God used Peter, God will use you.

In another instance, religious leaders arrested Peter and John for teaching people about Jesus. What they said about the resurrection of the dead annoyed the leaders. So, they put them in jail. I’m sure I’ve annoyed church leaders with my sermons. I’m glad to say I’ve escaped sermonic arrest.

Their preaching and arrest were not in vain. Luke tells us that five thousand people believed what they said about the Risen Christ. Any preacher would love to boast the fruit of those two stories alone. But the numbers don’t stop there. The church continues to multiply.

Often, those big numbers astound us. Have I ever even had the chance to address thousands of people at one time? There’s no way I could look forward to thousands of people coming to Jesus because of me, right? I ask that as one pastor, but our churches ask those kinds of questions, too.

It’s hard for us to imagine having that kind of reach. But we try.

And there’s nothing wrong with wanting more people to know the love of God. That’s what God desires. I just don’t want us to be so enamored with big numbers that we miss a more important one.

It doesn’t appear to me that the apostles are always looking for huge crowds. They preach where they are. Sometimes, the multitudes heard a sermon only because the apostles stopped to talk to one man who needed healing. They were faithful with God’s message wherever they went. Even if the people weren’t there yet.

Now, you may remind me that you are not an apostle. Well, I’m not either. But the message of the Risen Savior is ours. God gave it to us.

What do we do with it?

What we can’t do is wait for thousands of people to show up before we share it. God loves every person you meet. Every person. I don’t want to ignore the one person in front of me because I’m pursuing the thousands I want to preach to.

I don’t want you to miss the joy of offering Christ to someone you meet because you’re waiting for your church membership to grow.

Some might think this is no time to share our message. The world doesn’t want to hear what we have to say. Friend, that has always been true. Why do you think the apostles were in jail? Are you kidding? It feels like the world has never needed to hear about Jesus more!

Don’t wait for the crowds, though. Speak the love of God to the one person in front of you today.

Stay blessed…john

Letter 82

From the Values and Voices website:

American Values, Religious Voices: 100 Days, 100 Letters is a national, nonpartisan campaign created from the conviction that scholars who study and teach our diverse religious traditions have something important to say about our shared American values. This project aims to contribute constructively to our national discourse, reaffirming who we are as Americans and modeling how we can learn from one another and work together for the common good.

I hadn’t heard of this project before today. I plan to read through the 2021 letters this week.

Dr. Clark-Soles was my favorite professor in seminary. When I teach Bible studies and classes to churches, I channel my inner Clark-Soles. Here is her letter to Biden Administration and Congress.

Imagine if we learned to weep with one another. If we learned to walk humbly before God, hand in hand with those in need. Greater things, indeed.

Stay blessed…john

The gift and mission

Eternal life is both a gift and a mission.

It was a mission for Jesus. Our Lord knew God sent him to proclaim eternal life. That mission was the fulfillment of all God’s law.

Remember that powerful text from Deuteronomy. In it God says, “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him (Deuteronomy 30:19-20).

God offered life to the people of God. We know that sometimes they took advantage of such a promise and other times they squandered it. They didn’t listen to the prophets’ words. Time and time again they turned to their selfish ways. That’s just like us.

In the fullness of time, God sent Jesus to offer a completed promise: eternal life.
Jesus understood and made it clear that God’s purpose for his life was to share that message. And so he did.

He did when people loved what he had to say. He did so when people wanted to throw him off a cliff. He did as more and more people followed him and as he was executed on a cross.

Eternal life was Christ’s mission and it is our gift.

People assume I love my name so much that I chose John as my favorite book of the Bible. Yes, that would be a John thing to do. After all, John refers to himself as the “disciple whom Jesus loved.” Growing up, I always wanted a more flashy name. John sounded pretty boring and I never thought of myself as boring.

Then I understood the meaning of the name: Yahweh has been gracious. There’s nothing boring about that!

I love the book of John because it centers on eternal life. And who am I without that? God has been too good for me to not accept such a gift. 

Eternal life, then, remains both a mission and a gift.

Christ offered us eternal life. We received it; we receive it every time we pray. Now, his mission becomes ours. Just as Jesus used signs to show that he was God’s promise, we have signs, too, that point to Jesus.

We may not walk on water, but we forgive. We do so because the love of God compels us. Besides, actually forgiving someone these days may be more of a miracle. We may not be able to make a blind man see, but we can offer compassion and care for him. You and I may never see complete freedom and equity for all people, but we can stand up for the people we do know who face oppression and persecution now.

And our mission isn’t predicated on whether people believe us or not. Again, Jesus took his mission to the cross. We share the news of eternal life simply because it’s the gift we have received.

Stay blessed…john