1 Peter 3:15 - But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. (NIV)
I would imagine this congregation is like most congregations in our circles in that even though the faces of the people change over time, we do a lot of things the same. We tend to become formalistic in the way we do ministry. We faithfully follow a liturgy, which tells us when to sit, when to stand, what to sing, and what to say.
Our organizations don’t change too much over the years. We have the ushers and maybe a choir. We have Sunday School and maybe VBS. We may have a ladies guild of some sort, though they have been on the decline in these last 10-20 years. And we generally don’t add new things. Sometimes it seems like the Church owns to slogan, “We have always done it this way!”
Such is the case when we celebrate Mission Festival. Typically, we hear about what other people are doing in other parts of the country or the world to accomplish the Great Commission. Sometimes we have used this as an occasion to launch our own Missions or Evangelism Committee to try to do outreach in this area. Oftentimes, however, we have trouble figuring out how to connect with the unchurched. Most of the people we know are like us – we share the same values, the same faith and likely even the same congregation. So often our local mission efforts are well-intentioned but soon fizzle in frustration.
Unless you haven’t figured it out yet, Christian Life Resources is not your typical mission agency and yet we do an incredible amount of mission work – the kind that you can do right here. That is what we will talk about right now: The Opportunities to Share Life, for the protection of human life and the sharing of eternal life.
St. Louis: First, let’s identify that there is a mission field here. St. Louis is what is called an “independent city” meaning it is not part of any county. As a city it has a population of over 317,400 people (as of 2014), and about 250 of them are members of this congregation. According to the 2010 census, 53.9% of the people living in the city of St. Louis have no religious affiliation. So your mission field contains more than 171,500 people – and that is just in the city. You have an additional 1 million people in St. Louis county, 48.3% of whom claim no church home so that adds another 483,000 to your mission field. There is mission work to do in St. Louis, MO.
When I was growing up in Lake Geneva, WI my pastor started an Evangelism Committee in around 1972. The pastor and the Church Council guy charged with getting this going set out to recruit members to the Evangelism Committee.
As a junior in high school I was recruited. Training involved a two part class in which during part one the pastor “trained” us by reminding us that the Great Commission calls all of us to be missionaries. Part two called for us to memorize a bunch of Bible passages. It was terrifying and it was clear why they recruited people for this, because no one would sign up for it.
We get formalistic about mission work. We think that by learning key passages, knocking on a door, and asking people if they died tonight do they know where they would be we have done it. I want to give you a different and more natural approach to mission work.
Our reading begins with these words: But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Literally, it says that you need to sanctify your heart by filling it with Jesus Christ. That is where mission work begins. Everything we know about Jesus Christ should permeate our hearts. Not just our heads but our hearts. This is not referencing a mere allegiance and a wholesale commitment that Jesus Christ is the Lord and Master of my heart and the captain of my ship.
Consider the way James says this has to happen: Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. (James 4:7–10)
Purification is the process of rooting out anything and everything that soils what is supposed to be clean. Look closely to what James is saying. He says we are to “grieve, mourn, and wail.” We are to “change our laughter into mourning and our joy into gloom.” How does that possibly sound like purification?
Let’s put it a different way. This world will pass away. You can build up the family farm, grow your investments, refurbish your house, become the most popular person in the city and in the end you die and it is gone. Worse yet, we are told that wisdom in this world is really foolishness compared to God. Strength in this world is really weakness in comparison to God.
If in this world you find your joy, your sense of worth, your value, and your pleasure, James says, “throw it away!” Instead he says, Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. That is what it means to revere Christ in your hearts. If your treasure and the things you value most are in this world, you will not want to evangelize or talk about Jesus to others for fear it might endanger your popularity, cost you money or bite into your social time.
So everything I am about to tell you is going to require of you to act your faith. Either you are a child of God or you are faking it. Either you accept God at his Word when it comes to directing us how to live, or you are following another god with different directives of this world or created in the dark places of our hearts.
The process of heart purification begins with the study of God’s Word. It involves more than just hearing 2-3 readings and a 20 minute sermon once/week. When you consider that the three greatest dangers we face in life are the devil, the world, and our own flesh, those are major obstacles. You cannot engage in any spiritual battle being ill-prepared.
And our text goes on: Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. There are two parts to this. It involves having answers to peoples’ questions and it involves people asking the questions. And that is where we at Christian Life Resources come in. So let’s take the second part first.
Peter is asking that the way we live our lives, express our values, and talk about our faith all demonstrate a hope that is going to prompt people to ask questions. And if we have found that no one is asking questions perhaps it is because we look like the world – we look like we have no more hope than the next guy.
Since we were formed in 1983, Christian Life Resources has been devoted to using life and family issues as bridges or opportunities to talk about Jesus Christ and our certain hope of eternal salvation. And let me show you how that works:
On January 22, 1973 the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion. Since then there have been 59.8 million abortions. Proportionately speaking 46 of those unborn children would have been members of this congregation.
As you already know, abortion is a controversial topic as it pits the life of an unborn child against the right of a woman to control her body. Simplistically people will argue that she should have thought about that before she got pregnant. OK – good point but Peter says that as we give answer to the hope that we have we are to do this with gentleness and respect. Pointing out stuff like that makes you logically right but practically useless because it is adversarial. To be a witness you need to have a relationship.
To be an evangelist presumes you have a forum by which you can talk and people will listen. If you are nasty, judgmental, condescending, cold-hearted, obnoxious, and sarcastic (which pretty much describes most of what we read on social media) don’t be surprised if no one is going to ask you the reason for the hope that you have.
A percentage of abortions annually are done out of ignorance. Some women are led to believe that life doesn’t begin until delivery. They do not know the Biblical references to life in the womb, like Psalm 139, Jeremiah 1:5 or Luke’s account of John the Baptist in the womb of Elizabeth when the mother of Jesus came into the room. They do not know that the heart of an unborn child is beating before a mother knows she is pregnant. They do not know about brain waves detected before the end of the first trimester of a pregnancy. And they do not know that even the leaders in the abortion-rights movements admits that in an abortion a child dies. They just call it a sad but necessary evil.
Someone needs to create a rapport with this young mother so that these facts can be explained.
Some seeking an abortion know the facts but feel they have no choice because of circumstance or no money. Again, someone needs to create a rapport with this young mother to help her through these obstacles in life.
When you are willing to help and be part of a solution that sooner or later she is going to ask you “why?” Why are you doing this? Why are you so sacrificial?
And let’s look at the end of life. Today there is a movement sweeping across the country to legalize assisted suicide. It sounds logically appealing. When you are diagnosed with a terminal condition it says that a patient can request of his or her doctor medicine and directions on how to die of an overdose.
Even some Christians are buying into this. But in doing so they overlook two important things:
1) God is the author of life. That means he gives life and he takes life according to his will. We are stewards of life. We care for it not as our own but as something belonging to him. If you loan me your car and it breaks down on the road, I will not haul it to the scrap heap. That is your decision. My responsibility is to care for that which has been lent to me.
2) With assisted suicide we neglect the driving forces for quality palliative care? Instead of pressing for better pain management and increased quality of life, people buy into the notion that it is better to kill than care.
And how does this make you an evangelist? This is a world that venerates self over others. When people see you disrupting your busy schedule to visit your father or mother in a nursing home every day; when they see you singing hymns, reading books, and so forth to those who suffer from advanced dementia; when they see you sacrificing for others when there is no reward in it for you, they will have something to say. They will wonder how you do it or why you do it. They may think you are wasting your time, but in those conversations, God is opening the door for you to give a reason for the hope that you have.
And this is your answer: “I know what it is to be a spiritual abortion. I know what it is to be helpless and useless. I know how disabled I am by sin in my own life and I know the price that was paid. If God loved me so much that he gave his son to die for me on the cross because of my sins, how can I possible be less loving, less sacrificial, and less caring?
And folks, did you notice that in that answer for the reason of the hope that we have I never once quoted a Bible passage?
Being a missionary is not an academic exercise of learning and memory skills. Being a missionary is the by-product of purified hearts focused solely on Jesus Christ. And when your heart is so oriented, then every life and family issue is an opportunity to share life that never ends. That is mission work, and you did it! Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding shall keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus. Amen.