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Outreach
Brett Anderson ©2005

Last week I preached a message at a church in Somerset West called Helderberg Christian Church and this week I felt that I should preach a similiar message at Stellenbosch Vineyard where I go... and I also think it's a good partner to last week's thort so I hope you are challenged...

The theme of the message is 'Outreach' and the prayer that goes before I started preaching it was simply, 'Holy Spirit, please come in and break down self in me' so maybe take a few minutes to pray that prayer and ask God to really come in and do that.

[1] WHAT IS THE MESSAGE?

A lot of people today have the message that we are carrying as "Christianity is cool" or maybe "Jesus is cool." We act and plan and think as if our purpose is to convince people 'out there' that this thing we are doing and involved in is so cool that they will want to come on board and be part of it. By having funkier programs, louder music, new different ways of presenting the message, we can let people know that it is cool to be a Christian and they will want to come and join us.

But you know what? And I really believe this is a message that needs to hit home in a lot of us. Christianity is NOT COOL. Jesus was NOT COOL! We've got to have that idea broken out of us and really start seeking out the Truth again.

Do you think it was cool for Joseph to be thrown into a pit by his brothers? sold into slavery? wrongfully accused and thrown into jail?

Do you think it was cool for Job to have most of his wealth and animals destroyed? to have a huge portion of his family killed? to be inflicted with boils (NOT COOL!....so I've heard!)

Do you think it was cool for Daniel to be living in exile with his people? to be thrown into a lion's den because he simply prayed to God?

Do you think it was cool for Jesus to die one of the most public and humiliating deaths on the cross? to be betrayed by one of his close friends? to be denied by one of his closer friends? to have the crowds who had been following him turn against him and call for his death? to have the religious leaders of the day plotting his death?

A lot of what Jesus preached and many of the miracles He performed went against what the religious leaders of the day thought was acceptible and so they definitely did not regard Him as cool. The money-changers and animal sellers in the temple that He threw out, armed with a whip, didn't think He was cool.

Jesus was NOT COOL. Following Him is not cool.

"All men will hate you because of Me (Jesus) but he who stands firm to the end will be saved." [Matthew 10:22] Does that sound like a description of cool?

THEN WHAT IS IT?

So if the message is not "Christianity/Jesus is cool" what is it?

"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with Him, He will sit on His throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him and He will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on His right and the goats on His left.

Then the King will say to those on His right, "Come, you who are blessed by My Father take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me."

Then the righteous will answer Him, "Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? when did we see youa stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go visit you?"

The King will reply, "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me."

Then He will say to those on His left, "Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me."

They also will answer, "Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison and di not help you?"

He will reply, "I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for the least of these, you did not do for Me."

Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."

[Matthew 25:31-46]

The primary calling of a Christian is NOT to be an evangelist. Our main calling is actually not to get other people to know about Jesus. Our primary calling (and every one of us is called to this so if you ever wondered if you were called, Yes you are and this is it) is to be a worshipper!

Think about that for a second: I am called to be a worshipper of God.

And we are talking more than just singing nicely in church - we are talking about a lifestyle of worship.

""Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - His good, pleasing and perfect will." [Romans 12:1-2]

Do not conform to the pattern of this world. What is the pattern of this world? It's about being cool! So this verse reinforces what I was saying earlier cos we are called to be different and to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.

How do we achieve this? By loving God and by loving people [Matthew 22:37] - everything always goes back to those two which Jesus called the greatest commandment. What is the message we have to deliver? Love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind... and love your neighbour as yourself!

[2] WHO HAS TO GO?

We like to think there are some special people (we sometimes call them missionaries or evangelists) who have been called by God to go. But what does God say?

"Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw Him, they worshipped Him; but some doubted. 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, baptising 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 28:16-20]

We are ALL called to go. Some of us geographically to foreign towns and countries and some of us in our schools or universities or the country where we were born. But we are all called to go and make disciples. So it is not good enough to look at certain people in your church and say they have been called to go. Because you have. You have key relationships with people in your family, in your friend groups, in your work situations and you might be the only Christian they have access to and the only person who can point them to God. So whether you stay where you are or move to another place, you are called to Go!

THE MESSAGE OF THE STARFISH AND WHAT IT'S NOT!

There is a quite well known analogy that has been used in many talks and camps and last year when I used it at the Newsong Festival during my talk there, I got a new ending to it. Just before I went on stage, God really just spoke a final climaxing point to it which really nailed me right deep in my heart.

As the story goes there is a beach where thousands of starfish have been washed up on the shore and the tide has gone out and the sun is baking down and these starfish are dying in the sun. There is small boy on the beach who bends down and picks up a starfish and throws it back into the water. Then he reaches down and grabs another starfish and throws it back into the water.

This continues for a long time and then eventually an old man, who has been standing for a while watching this strange sight, goes over to the boy and asks him what he's doing.

"I'm saving these starfish," the boy replies.

"But look down the beach," the old man says, "there are thousands of starfish dying here, you will never make a difference."

And [cue Christian cheesy analogy ending] the boy bends down and picks up another starfish, looks at the old man and says, "I'm making a difference to this one," and throws it back into the water, and then picks up another one, "I'm making a difference to this one," and throws it back in.

The message of this analogy is meant to be that each of us can make a difference to one person at a time and our responsibility is not the whole beach.

I don't want to knock that message cos there is definitely some truth in it, but the closing line God gave me as I sat there ready to go on stage and speak was this,

WHAT IF ALL THE PEOPLE WHO WERE MEANT TO BE ON THE BEACH WERE ON THE BEACH?

And that hits hard. What if the whole church was on the beach throwing starfish back into the water. Then suddenly you start to see a difference being made to the whole beach and all the starfish. What if all the Christians in the world realised their calling to reach out to others and started doing so? What if self was killed in each one of us and we stopped caring about money or sporting achievement or promotion or things and started focusing on loving God and people with ALL our heart and soul and strength and mind? Imagine the impact of that.

[3] HOW DO WE GO?

This is the last point I am wanting to make and I am going to quote a passage from one of my favourite authors, Terry Pratchett, who is not a Christian as far as I know. He writes satirical fantasy books which are very funny and yet which often, in their humour, contain deeply satirical and spot-on commentaries about different aspects of life.

The book I am going to quote is called 'Carpe Jugulum' (seize the throat) and it's naturally a story about vampires. The two characters in this passage are Granny Weatherwax who is a witch and Mister Oats who is a young priest of a god called Om - he has just started out as a priest and is quite nervous and just trying to do the right thing. This conversation takes place between the two of them and for me it is one of the strongest commentaries on Christianity I've ever read:

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"They walked on in silence. A shower of hail bounced off Granny's pointed hat and Oat's wide brim.

Then Granny said, "It's no good you trying to make me believe in Om, though."

"Om forbid that I should try, Mistress Weatherwax. I haven't even given you a pamphlet, have I?"

"No, but you're trying to make me think, "Oo, what a nice young man, his god must be something special if nice young men like him helps old ladies like me," aren;t you?"

"No."

"Really? Well it's not working. People you can believe in, sometimes, but not gods. And I'll tell you this Mister Oats..."

He sighed. "Yes?"

She turned to face him, suddenly alive. "it'd be as well for you if I didn't believe," she said, prodding him with a sharp finger. "This Om...anyone seen him?"

"It is said three thousand people witnessed his manifestation at the Great Temple when he made the Covenant with the prophet Brutha and saved him from death by torture on the iron turtle-"

"But I bet that now they're arguing about what they actually saw, eh?"

"Well, indeed, yes, there are many opinions-"

"Right. Right. That's people for you. Now if I'd seen him, really there, really alive, it'd be in me like a fever. If I thought there was some god who really did care two hoots about people, and who watched 'em like a father and cared for 'em like a mother...well, you wouldn't catch me saying things like "There are two sides to every question," and "We must respect other peoples beliefs." You wouldn't find me just being gen'rally nice in the hope that it'd all turn out right in the end, not if that flame was burning in me like an unforgivin' sword. And I did say burnin', Mister Oats, cos that's what it'd be. You say that your people don't burn folk and sacrifice people any more, but that's what true faith would mean, y'see? Sacrificin' your own life, one day at a time, to the flame, declarin' the truth of it, workin' for it, breathin' the soul of it. THAT'S religion. Anything else is just...is just bein' nice. And a way of keepin' in touch with the neighbours.

She relaxed slightly, and went on in a quieter voice. "Anyway, that's what I'd be, if I really believed. And I don't think that's fashionable right now, 'cos it seems that if you sees evil now you have to wring your hands and say, "Oh deary me, we must debate this." That's my two penn'orth, Mister Oats. You be happy to let things lie. Don't chase faith, 'cos you'll never catch it." She added, almost as an aside, "But, perhaps, you can live faithfully."

Her teeth chattered as a gust of icy wind flapped her wet dress around her legs.

"You got another book of holy words on you?" she added.

"No," said Oats, still shocked. He thought: my god, if she ever finds a religion, what would come out of those mountains and sweep across the plains?"

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Talk about seizing the throat!

That's it pretty much, except for the response. And I know I've used this in a thort a long time ago, but there are a lot of new people since then and so if you have made this commitment before, then use this as a reminder and stock take on that.

But basically I want to leave you with these two statements which can be turned into a prayer for you to make to God, but ONLY if you really mean it, and I must warn you in advance that if you pray this genuinely, then it will change your life for ever!

GOD, I WILL GO WHEREVER YOU WANT ME TO GO! GOD, I WILL DO WHATEVER YOU WANT ME TO DO!

I encourage you to take some time on this - do some business with God and then, if you really mean these statements, make them a prayer of commitment between you and God. Then maybe go back to last week's 9 questions and see if there is anything that needs to be done there.

If there is anyone reading this who doesn't feel like you can make those statements honestly and genuinely for whatever reason, then you must ask yourself this question: Can I really call Jesus Lord? Because those statements basically are a simple summing up to some extent of what it means to have Jesus as Lord of your life. They are not an option. They ARE Christianity!