This week's Bible Study - August 30, 2015
How Ordinary People Can Live on Mission
Quotes of the Week:
It's motive alone which gives character to the actions of men.
- Jean de la Bruyere
What does it mean to live a life on mission? When we think of a mission in Christian terms, we often are reminded of missionaries that serve in areas around the world. Some of them have been called to specific people groups around the world and when they follow where God leads, they are truly blessed. I have had the honor of working in country with those serving in many different parts of the world, from Canada to Belarus to Thailand to Taiwan and China on various mission trips in the past. While it has been a great experience to help each of these missionaries, I have never felt as if I were being led to pick up and move to another part of the world. Is it only those who are in foreign countries, serving as missionaries, that are on mission?
How can we be on mission where we live? God has gifted each believer with spiritual gifts that are for the building of the body of Christ. Some of these gifts enable ministers, teachers, administrators and others to work in different ministries within the church. However, there are many more people that attend church than those who are leading in church. Are the leaders only the ones on mission? As we consider our own spiritual gifs, we will find that God calls each of us to be on mission. This occurs in the way we live our lives in our workplaces, our neighborhoods and in the other places we frequent. When others know that we are believers, they are watching us and looking for something different. They are less concerned about being told what the Bible says, at least at the start, but want to see genuine people and what they see in us often helps them form their own ideas of what a Christian is like.
As we study this lesson, I pray that we will each focus on areas where our motives may have been wrong and determine how to make the appropriate changes in our lives, if needed. Perhaps God will open each of our eyes and hearts to understand that we are called to be on mission in our lives and help us to consider what that would really mean.
It was the Sabbath and Jesus went to the house of a prominent Pharisee, one of the leaders of the church.
You can imagine that this must have been an awkward situation for both of them. Throughout His ministry,
Jesus got along well with almost everybody, but he had many run-ins with the Pharisees. Have you ever had
to be in the presence of someone with whom you are often at odds? It can be a very stressful situation.
The biggest part of this particular situation was that the Pharisees never wanted to listen to what Jesus
said for fear that they may be wrong. They saw themselves as those closest to God due to their strict
adherence to the many laws that they had and they didn't want to lose that position. Confrontation often occurs in life when one or the other side will refuse to listen to anything different than what they want to believe, even if what they believe is not true. It can be really difficult to have a relationship with someone who will refuse to listen to the truth. Perhaps you know people like this today, or perhaps you may see a little of yourself in these Pharisees.
Jesus was being carefully watched. The Pharisees spent much of their time trying to catch Jesus doing something wrong so that they could elevate themselves and at the same time, ridicule Jesus. In their presence was a man suffering from abnormal swelling of his body. Jesus asked the Pharisees and the experts in the law if it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not. They remained silent. Jesus healed the man and sent him on his way. Then Jesus asked if any of them were to have a child or an ox that fell into a well on the Sabbath, would they not immediately go and pull it out? Again, they had nothing to say. Their strict adherence of the Sabbath and their own interpretation of how the law was to be adhered to would have caused them to avoid doing almost anything on the Sabbath. They valued their own interpretation of the law over the welfare of others.
A problem with the Pharisees was that they considered themselves to be the spiritual "cream of the crop". When they would be a guest at a feast, the Pharisees would assume the places of honor were for them. They had made their religion to be more about themselves and judging others, and less about being the people that God would have them be. They seemed to act as if they were what God desired them to be, so from their standpoint, why would they change? Jesus questioned their whole religious hierarchy by saying that those who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
Jesus told his host that when they gave a luncheon or dinner, they should not invite their friends, families or
rich neighbors in order to be repaid or invited back to their homes. Instead, they should invite the poor, the
crippled, the lame and the blind. Then they would be blessed. They would never be able to be repaid by
those they invited, but would indeed be repaid of the resurrection of the righteous. At first glance,
this seems strange. Many families gather at holidays and many times, friends get together for times of
fellowship. Often, the group will rotate from one place to another. As Jesus spoke in parables, it is often
the point that He is making that is most important, as opposed to the story he told. Jesus is not saying that we should avoid getting together with family or friends, but He is speaking more about our motives.
Have you ever thought about the things that we do to be seen, or what we might do only to receive something in return? In many workplaces, recognition of work well done is appreciated (we like to be seen) and we know that having a helpful attitude will often pay dividends in a team and especially at the times we need help (we like to be helped in return). There is nothing wrong with a good team attitude; however, a workplace analogy may be when one person tries to claim the work of other coworkers as their own. They do this more to get praise and accolades from management and less to be part of the team. When this happens, their motives are evident.
As we think of ourselves and our own spiritual lives, are we putting on a show or are we legitimate? For example, on one hand, do we act so that we may be regarded by some as mature believers, but on the other hand act in another way that is very much self-focused? Social media has become one of the most prevailing things in our culture, and with it, you will see some post Christian things online (I even post this lesson on facebook), but in doing so, appear to be somewhat of a super saint (although that may not be what they think they are doing). Each of us know that if others were to dig deep (maybe not even too deep), they will find inconsistencies in our lives. It is great to give a witness of our faith to others, but we need to ensure that we don't turn that into some sort of self promotion and even act as we are better or 'more spiritual' than others.
Jesus tells us that we need to truly examine our own motives and see that we are called to live in a much
different way than the rest of the world. The world will do many things that are self gratifying. The world
teaches us that it is all about 'me'. Burger King said "Have it your way". We setup our stations on the radio,
we add our Favorites to our internet browser - the experience in many places is geared to be focused on self.
We are able to tune much of our lives to be "me" focused, without even realizing it. It isn't a bad thing to
listen to your own music or watch your own favorite shows, but if your entire life becomes about you or I, we have missed the point. To follow Jesus requires a conscious effort to think about others, even at the expense of ourselves.
I find it interesting to read the answer that one of the folks at the table gave to Jesus. In fact, it wasn't an answer, because Jesus didn't really ask a question that had an answer. I believe that this man listened to Jesus and knew that Jesus was the 'church' guy, so he felt that the 'church answer' would be most appropriate, so he chose to say something 'churchy'. He said to Jesus, "Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God."
In one sense, the statement was correct, as those who eat at the feast in the kingdom of God would most certainly be blessed. Have you ever been in a Bible Study class and heard a question asked and knew what you were 'supposed to say'? Often, the church answer rolls off our tongue so easily that we don't even really think about what we are saying. For example, making a comment that 'I will pray for you', simply because we know it is the 'Christian' thing to say can appear heartfelt, but do these words really reflect what we are thinking and do they imply that we will really do this?
A story I have heard and used often involved a small kid's Sunday School class at church. The teacher asked them what was small and brown, having a bushy tail, climbing in trees and liking to eat nuts. One of the kids without missing a beat said, "it sure sounds like a squirrel, but I know the answer has to be Jesus". That kid would be so much like many adults who will always give the church answer. Think of your own life and the words you say and how you might answer questions at church or in a Bible Study. Are you more focused on saying what you think you are supposed to say, or are you willing to risk it and say what you are really thinking? Having taught many Bible Study classes over the years, I have heard many church answers which fit with the lesson, but the ones that really prompt the class to think more are the ones that are truthful and from someone's heart. These are often the impact of God working in their lives and can be the fuel to some great discussion about true issues in life.
We should also consider how much those church answers confuse others or take us out of an area where we could truly help someone else. For example, if a friend is going through a rough time at work and all you do is spout some passage of Scripture that may be applicable, you have done nothing to help your friend. Are you willing to put yourself in the place of others and realize that sometimes saying nothing is the best thing to say, or just resolve to be with them? Let us all consider the things that we say to others who are hurting or going through some issue in life, so that we do not end up using Scripture in a way that adds insult to their injury.
Jesus continued with a parable, in order to make His point. He said that a man was having a great banquet and he had invited many guests. He wanted to provide a great meal for them and he sent his servant to tell the invited guests to come. His servant went to tell these people, but they all began to make excuses. One of them had to go and see his new purchase of land. Another needed to go try out his new purchase of oxen. Another had just gotten married, so he couldn't come. In all cases, it became apparent that whatever was going on in their own lives outranked the man's banquet.
As we think about these excuses, we realize that there were probably many others. Have you ever felt like God was calling you to do something and your response was full of excuses. When we think of God's call on people's lives, we know that some people choose to put off responding, believing that they will have years upon years to make a response, and maybe they'll do it then. Others will be more concerned about what is going on in their lives at that time, and choose what they are doing as opposed to what they feel God is calling them to do. Chances are that each of us has made excuses to get out of doing what we felt God has called us to do at some point in our lives. So, we unfortunately can relate at times to the people making excuses.
The servant came back and reported all of these excuses to the master of the house, who became very angry. He had invited the ones that he had wanted to come, but they showed that what he wanted and his banquet was not important to him. So, the master told his servant to bring anyone who would come. He was to go into the streets and alleys of the town to bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame. These people were not originally invited to this banquet and had not likely been the ones that would be invited to banquets in the past. These people would not be able to repay the man for what was given, but that was of little concern to the master. He wanted a full house, but he made it clear that none of those who were originally invited would get a taste of his banquet.
This parable obviously speaks on a high level to the Israelites rejection of Jesus, and the spread of Christianity. The ones chosen (the Jews) did not come to the banquet, so others (the Gentiles, those who were considered unclean) were invited. This message to the Pharisees, although not understood by them, was very clear. They were so caught up in their own religious 'system' that they were unwilling to listen to anything that was different from what they believed would happen. We need to be careful that we do not get caught up in a religious system that quenches what God intends to do in our world.
Too many people and churches have put God in a box of their own making and have said that He will only act in this way or that way, not realizing that they have made their own intellect and thoughts to become their own god. We need to understand that, even after studying Scripture for many years and even many decades, there are many things that we still have to learn and no person has a handle on everything in Scripture. Hebrews 4:12 says "For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." Our role as believers is to be accountable to what we know and allow ourselves to be malleable as God speaks through His word. When we are truly seeking God in our lives, we will see many ways He works in an around us.
On a lower level, how many "banquets" have we missed because we have made excuses? How many times have we chosen our own comfort and desires over what God has called us to do? We need to examine our own motives in the way that we respond to God. What is it that we have done in order to be seen and what have we done only to receive something in return? Others are looking at our lives and they notice who we really are, even if they don't say anything. Are we guilty of trying to paint ourselves to be one thing, knowing that we have areas of our lives that are still 'in work'? We know that we all have made excuses and every believer has been a hypocrite. Yes, all of us have been hypocrites at one time or another. While we will never achieve perfection, are we seeking God in all we do, so that we seek Him and not to make a 'show' for others? If we have been guilty of being a modern day Pharisee, let us ask God for help to become the man or woman that God has called us to be.
From the aspect of the one hosting the banquet, are we opening up our lives to those who need to hear the word of God? It is a good thing to fellowship with other believers, but we will have limited impact if we are only around others who are just like us. Perhaps God is speaking to some of us to open our homes for others in our neighborhoods or in our workplaces, so that we can share the love of Christ with them. Regardless of how God is speaking to you, are you willing to listen? You can only be on mission when you are willing to listen and follow where God is leading.