Do you know the “Great Commission” – those words Jesus said to his disciples at the end of Matthew’s gospel?

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20 NIV)

I have often heard preachers and teachers comment on that pesky word “go,” as in, “go and make disciples.” In the Greek language of the New Testament, the word “go” is a participle, like our English words “going” or “walking” or “reading.” A participle indicates some kind of action, but it is not the main verb of the sentence. In the quote above, “make disciples” is the main verb, and it is an imperative, a command. The general feel of this sentence, then, shouldn’t be the two-fold command “go and make disciples,” but rather something more like “as you are going, make disciples.”

The reason people explain it this way is to suggest that making disciples is the most important work that we have as followers of Jesus. I think that’s true. And it’s to emphasize that you don’t necessarily have to go anywhere – to an overseas mission field, for instance – in order to make disciples. The danger, though, is that we can separate the intentionality of “going” from the activity of “making disciples.” That is, we can relax and lay back, waiting for the next opportunity to show up for us to make a new disciple. “As you are going,” you know, when you get around to it. Continue reading

We began a new sermon series this week:  what is our vision as a congregation?  What drives us into God’s preferred future?  And what does this have to do with how we communicate as a church family?  Listen in to Pastor David’s sermon on Philippians 3:4b-14:

Listen now!

This is the vision statement which Pastor David references in the sermon:


My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry… (James 1:19 NIV)

To answer before listening — that is folly and shame. (Proverbs 18:13 NIV)

God gave you two ears but only one mouth because he wants you to listen twice as much as you talk. (anonymous)

You know the sayings: listen before you respond, think before you speak, avoid jumping to conclusions.  It is hard but important to do; listening well can help us resolve conflicts before they begin, communicate effectively and meaningfully, and keep our minds open to other peoples’ ideas.

So why do we struggle to listen to others so frequently, both at home and in public?  Why are we so quick to speak and slow to listen?

Surely you know what this is like.  Often I will react to something my wife says, or to something that another customer says or does at the grocery store, without thinking about what I choose to say first.  There is so much more wisdom in simply slowing down, thinking and praying quietly, and then responding carefully.  Arguments and wars and tragedies, great and small, can be avoided.

Can you imagine what would happen if Israelis and Palestinians listened to each other’s desires and viewpoints – I mean, really heard each other?

Can you imagine what would happen if Darren Wilson had listened to Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri the other weekend?  What if Michael Brown had listened to Darren Wilson?

Can you imagine a political debate in which the opponents actually listened and responded to each other instead of giving us pre-cooked sound bites? (No, I can’t either – but I can dream!)

Listening is so important to human communication and to society in general.  How can this simple idea influence the church’s outreach efforts?  I think the possibilities are endless:

  • When standing in a long line at the store, you listen to the conversations around you.  Then you realize you can offer an encouraging word to your neighbor.
  • When hearing someone describe their troubled home life, you listen carefully instead of explaining how your own home life is (or was) worse.
  • When inviting someone to church, you listen to her to discover her story.  Her story is valuable in itself, because she is a child of God.  Then, humbly and compassionately, you explain why you think worshiping Jesus might make a difference for her.
  • When a guest visits church and tells you that he works at a local restaurant, you learn his hours and eat at that restaurant when he is there.  (And you leave a generous tip.)

The key idea to listening as an outreach device is the concept of caring.  If you really care about people, you will listen to them carefully and orient your life around their responses.  This is, I believe, one of the messages buried within the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).

And the second key to listening is a challenge for me personally:  responding appropriately.  God gave you two ears, yes; but he also gave you one mouth.  Listen to others, show your concern for them, but remember that your own words can have tremendous influence – for good or for ill – in the lives of those around you.

We are called to reach out to others for the sake of Christ.  Listen to your neighbors as you do so!

In recent years, the phrase “pay it forward” has become very popular in Christian circles.  The movie by that name (produced in 2000) helped to make the phrase famous.  Even in Midland County, we have seen this phrase take on new meaning connected to the life and death of young Jayden Lamb; around here, people “pay it forward Jayden style.”

You probably know what this means: to do something nice for someone else, even a stranger, before they do anything nice for you.  You might pay for the person behind you in line at McDonald’s.  You might leave your waitress an extra-large tip and a word of encouragement on the receipt.  You might donate blood, hold the door open for a stranger, or offer to take a picture for a couple holding their camera at arm’s length.  All of these ideas are summed up in one word:  selflessness.

“Paying it forward” is a wonderful thing to do.  After all, it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35).  What’s more, Jesus taught us to do unto others as we would have them do to us (Matthew 7:12) – something we learned, hopefully, at an early age and continue to practice our entire lives.  And living selflessly is at the core of what Jesus did by washing his disciples’ feet (John 13) and dying on the cross to take away the sins of the world (Matthew 20:25-28).

But there’s a problem with “paying it forward”:  it can be done outside the context of relationship.   If you pay for a stranger’s coffee at Starbuck’s, that’s great, but what have you done except help that person feel good and save them a few dollars?  If you leave an encouraging Post-It note in a library book, that’s great, but how does that strengthen your connectedness to other people?

In Christian circles, we frequently talk about “outreach” as a primary goal for our lives.  We want to share the good news of Jesus Christ with others, because it really is good news.  But if we only pass tracts to strangers or put bumper stickers on our cars, then we may be missing something.  Reaching out to others requires a connection between people.

Do you remember watching the movie E.T. (1982)?  The quintessentially memorable moment in that movie occurs when the extra-terrestrial “E.T.” reaches out his shining finger and touches – and heals – Elliot’s injured finger.  (“Ouch!”)

Making an impact on someone’s life means we have to risk making personal contact with him or her.

So, pay it forward, Jayden style or Jesus style.  Live a life that is beneficial to those around you.  Do nice things; say nice things; help those in need.  But don’t do it impersonally.  Take the extra risk of learning a name, making a friend, asking a question.

Pay for the person behind you in line, and introduce yourself to her.  Learn her name.  Ask her if there is any other way you can help her today.

Do a random act of kindness for a stranger, and learn his name too.  Ask him about his story, sit down for a cup of coffee with him, and listen to his life experiences.

Say hello to your neighbors, and take over a plate of cookies.  Invite them over for dinner.  Give generously to meet their needs, and remind them that God loves them too.

Build relationships with those whom you bless.  If you never see them again, at least you are becoming more selfless, more sensitive to the needs of others.  But who knows?  Perhaps your paths will cross again in the future.  Maybe you can become an encouragement, a spiritual asset, a praying friend for your neighbor.

After all, wouldn’t you like to have more friends like that in your life?

This week, Pastor David begins a series on the first few chapters of 1 Corinthians, a letter written to an ancient church with modern-day problems.  Despite all the issues at Corinth, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:1-9 that the believers there are called to be holy, and that God will keep them blameless until the day of Jesus’s return.  How does this passage reveal that “Jesus is the subject”?  (And what does that phrase mean?)  Click below to listen in to this week’s sermon!

Listen now!

Today is the last day of 2013, and a new year is soon to dawn.  In fact, I have a friend who lives in New Zealand, and at this moment she is already several hours into 2014!  The future is always very nearly upon us.

At this time of year, we often look back on the year that has passed, and we consider what the upcoming year may hold.  I invite you to take a few moments to reflect on the life of Mt. Haley Church of God with me.

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