Thursday, December 17, 2009

The cost of mission

Good morning friends. I am very proud of all of my students for their work last night. I found they did exceptionally well as we had the largest turn out ever for one of our productions as well as a good crowd online as we broadcast for the first time. Today is our last day before Christmas break and it is a simple clean up day. But first let us turn back to 1 Thessalonians 2.

There was no doubt that Paul was a unique person in the early Church. He had received the task of presenting the gospel of grace to the gentiles, both far and near. Not only that, he often was surrounded by men who he was discipling and training as leaders. Not all of those who were with Paul were in training; he also had some full partners, such as Barnabas and Silas who were referred to as apostles, like Paul. His mission was not an easy one for a Jew going into foreign lands, foreign cultures, foreign beliefs. A good thing he was raised in Tarsus which was a trading center where he would have encountered many of these cultures as young boy. Still, it was not an easy task having to break new ground while financing himself. He points out to the Thessalonians:

As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us. Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. vs. 6-9

I simply want to point out to you this morning that, although Paul and Silas were unique in the early Church, they are not unique in our present day. This is what we have all been called to do, to be the agents of reconciliation between God and man. The mission comes at a cost, a cost that all of us should be willing to bear because Jesus' example of love to us should compel us to serve in the mission. The cost is as Paul outlines here; to love people; to love people enough to share the gospel and our lives with them; to pay whatever price is necessary to do fulfill this mission.

We have been called to the mission of loving people. It sounds easier said than done. Jesus told us that it is too easy to love people who love us or to give love to people who we know will love us in return. He told us instead to love those who can't love us back; to love our enemies and those who persecute us. That is our mission, to love the unlovable and the haters of this world. William Booth told his son Bramwell, "Go for souls and go for the worst." It is what Jesus demonstrated. Although he spent time with every class of people, he seemed to spend most of his time with those who society had given up on. I pray the Church hasn't given up on them. I have heard pastors say, "It's good to work with the lower end of society but in order for my church to survive I need to get a few rich people saved as well." I think he lacked a lot of understanding and faith. We have to love those who offer us nothing.

We have been called to the mission of sharing all we have, including our lives. It is great that we want to share the gospel with strangers but are we willing to allow those strangers to also share our lives. This is a tough one for a lot of us as we struggle with allowing people to draw close to us. Paul opened himself up completely to people. Everyone became someone he dearly loved and he shared all of his life with them. He held nothing back and he paid whatever price he had to pay to include them. This is how people are won and kept in the Lord. It is not good enough to bring someone to Jesus. Without rich relationships with other Christians they will soon fall away. We need to allow them to become part of our lives, sharing time and effort to grow them in Jesus. For some of us this is a greater cost than simply giving them our bank account, yet it is absolutely necessary.

We have been called to the mission of paying the price. Paul and Silas financed most of their mission themselves because the Church was still young and no one was rich enough to sponsor them. Paul refers to this as hardship and toil. These men worked hard to earn enough money to keep them and their growing team so that they could remain in Thessalonica to preach the gospel and share with the new believers. If we read Luke's account in Acts it seems they were there for a day, but Luke rarely provided a sense of time. Here Paul indicates they were there for a while and the whole time they worked and preached and shared. When I consider I have a lot to balance I think of Paul's example of the cost of mission. It is suppose to be hard work. It is suppose to cost us everything. It is suppose to be labouring and sacrificing. It is what each of us have been called to but can we all honestly say that we have responded to the call to the mission as we should?

I know there are a number of pastors and churches I am very proud of because they represent Jesus and the mission very well. They work hard, putting everything they have into their calling. Yet, there is no such thing as clergy and laity in the Church. We are all called to the mission and we all play a different part with different responsibilities. Some of us are focused fully on the mission, others of us have to work to provide for ourselves and the church while still taking part in the mission. Yes, I am referring to you. You have been saved to serve, not to be part of an audience. Your mission is to love people enough to share the gospel with them as well as to include them in your lives, no matter the coast. This mission involves giving everything you have; no half measures. If we all approach it in this way then we will see the miracles that we saw in the early Church and the whole world will know Jesus is alive and is in love with them. Let's get on with it then. To God be the glory.

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