A Countercultural Mission
In Dayton, Ohio, attorney Derrick Farmer gave a motivational talk to at-risk teens. Derrick is 48 years old, and has been an attorney since 1999. Now, what was unusual about this event was that it was picketed by 30 Dayton police officers. Why? When Derrick was 16 years old, he committed the brutal murder of a civil-rights activist and a Dayton police officer as the trigger man in a jewelry store hold-up. But something happened in Derrick's life. He gave his life to Christ. In the world’s culture, you understand why it would seem absurd that Derrick would be lecturing to teenagers about right living. But we come from an upside-down, countercultural perspective. God uses people just like Derrick. The Bible lists a variety of people who murdered someone and yet God was able to redeem that person and use them for His work of salvation. Moses was one. King David was another.
In our Scripture today, we have just such an individual. Saul was the Osama bin Laden of his day, who thought he was obeying God by seeking the destruction of all Christ followers. Saul hunted down, persecuted and murdered those who professed a faith in Jesus Christ. On the road to Damascus, Saul encounters Jesus in a vision who tells him to stop persecuting His followers. As a result, Saul finds himself temporarily blinded. So Jesus directs his disciple Ananias to go to Saul, because he’s going to use him to change the world. When you talk about all the people to choose, Saul would have been the last one we would choose and yet he became the most influential Christian who's ever lived. He wrote most of the New Testament, laid the foundation of Christian theology and changed the mission of the church from just the Jews to include the Gentiles, who inhabited most of the known world. Yet he was a murderer. Ananias began to argue with Jesus, “Lord, this is not rational; it doesn't make sense. Saul 's the enemy, a murderer.” And yet Saul was Jesus’ chosen instrument to proclaim His name to the Gentiles.
We find there are four elements to a counter culture mission. First, the work of God is restorative. Today, when something gets old and worn, we throw it away. God is not a destructive God. He is a redemptive God. Only God can take a murderer and make him a significant servant in the building of His kingdom. That’s what a transforming encounter with the restorative God in Jesus Christ does. The word “save” means to restore to the original purpose or intent for which it was created. We talk so much in the church about being saved: "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved." It means that you are put back into the image of who God created you to be in Jesus. God is not a God of condemnation; God is the God who has sent his Son to save the world through him. This is the work of God in our lives. Amazing Grace was written by John Newton in the 1700s, but what most people don't know is that before he wrote this song, before he was restored, he was a slave trader. This is the kind of God we have. On his tomb today in England, it says: "Here lies John Newton, clerk. A Libertine and former slave trader who was by the rich mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ redeemed, regenerated, forgiven and appointed to preach the faith he had long labored to destroy." God is a God of restoration. Condemnation comes from religion not from the cross.
Second this redemptive, restorative movement is relational. When Paul had this mysterious encounter with Jesus Christ on the road, where did he send him? To a community of faith, the house of a man by the name of Judas. Most of Jesus' ministry happened in houses, not in temples or public forums. Life transformation happens one on one or in small groups. So Jesus sends Ananias to Saul and it’s through him that the scales came off Saul's eyes and he was able to see what he formerly wasn't able to see, that his actions weren’t doing the will of God but instead seeking to destroy the new work of God. The presence of Jesus is revealed to us through our relationships with other people.
Rational arguments do not change people, changed lives do. Changed lives change the lives of others, and thereby change the world. Annanias’ life had been changed by Jesus, Paul’s life would be changed by Annanias’ and Paul ended up changing the world. In Keith Miller’s book, “A Habitation of Dragons”, he tells the story of a well-to-do attorney who encounters him after speaking to a group of men in an unnamed town. The man was in town not to hear Miller but to see his mistress while pretending to be on a business trip. However, as he gets out of his car a few blocks from the church where Miller is to speak, three men from his church see him and approach him. He almost fainted as they asked, ‘What are you doing here, Joe?’ ‘I uh…I’m just passing through’ he lied, scared to death they were going to see the guilt written all over me.’ ‘Hey great. We’re just going down to hear a Christian businessmen speak. You’ve gotta come with us.’ And I was afraid to say no, for fear I’d somehow give myself away.’
Miller then says that as he shared with that group of men, the Holy Spirit began to work in this attorney’s life to the place that he indicated to Miller that he really wanted to give up his affair as well as his entire life to God. They agreed to a covenant of prayer once a day at 6:30 AM for as long as this desperate attorney wanted it. A year went by and this man, who began to change from self-centered to God-centered, asked Miller to come to his church and speak. Keith Miller arrived late and as he entered the room where he was to speak, he looked into the faces of 800 people crammed into every nook and cranny of space possible. Then he writes, ‘I realized in that moment that all of the promoted programs and Christian education plans in the world will be virtually worthless to motivate people to become Christians-unless they see some ordinary person like Joe who is finding hope and a new way to live in Christ. Then they will listen.’
People can’t deny the presence of Jesus in your life. Hearing isn’t believing, reading the Bible isn’t believing, seeing is believing. The presence of Jesus is revealed to us through the lives of other people. Faith is awakened and nurtured with other Jesus followers. Faith is relational. If you're doing nothing else, just hanging out in the worship service isn't where you're going to meet Jesus. Get involved in a small group of followers of Jesus.
Third, the mission of God is revolutionary. When you have a transforming encounter, a conversion with Jesus Christ, you become part of a movement that is controversial. Look at verse 23. "After many days had gone by, there was a conspiracy among the Jews to kill Paul." When you come into this community, all of a sudden you're part of a group that threatens the status quo. We threaten the prejudice and priorities of other people. The kingdom of God is here and the kingdom advances forcibly. Jesus said. "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword." Matthew 10:34 It's going to separate children from parents, husbands from wives. God challenges the staus quo and calls his believers to do so as well. And when you give your life to him, you've become part of the movement, because you see the movement of God threatens the status-quo. And it was the people of God who were propagating prejudice and racism. It is still going on in places all over the world today. God threatens the prejudice and priorities of the culture with the values and priorities of the Kingdom. And He calls his followers to do the very same.
In the concentration camp Dauchau, the back barracks were unique. Many people don't know this, but Hitler put Christians in the concentration camps, too, and these were the barracks where they were housed. Why were they there? These were the Christians who would not bow their knees to an evil regime. These were the Christians who spoke out against Hitler and his genocide and by their lives and their actions, "No, it stops here. Here we stand.” Casper ten Boom was one of them. He had a heart for the Jewish people so he started a weekly prayer group for the salvation of the Jews. When the Jews were forced to wear the “Star of David,” Casper lined up for one. He wore it because he wanted to identify himself with the people for whom he and his family had been praying for all those years. He did so by choice and was willing to wear a sign of shame and suffer persecution for the sake of the people he loved and to take a stand against the policies of the Nazis. In 1944 the ten Boon family was sent to a concentration camp for helping Jews to flee from the Nazi persecution in Holland. Casper did not survive.
In Jesus, you become a part of this controversial and countercultural movement. This is the community that demonstrates how radically different a Christ culture is to the culture of the world. We are to demonstrate a whole different kind of priority when it comes to life.
Fourth, it's missional. What happened as soon as Paul had this encounter with Jesus? “At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God.” Everyone who comes into the community of Jesus Christ is a missionary and an evangelist. Say, “I am a missionary and an evangelist.” It's not just the professionals and the spectators. We are all part of this. You know the best thing you can do for another person? Bring them into this community of faith. Invite them to come with you. Pick them up and God will do the rest. The best thing you can do is to look for opportunities to invite and bring people into our church and God will do the rest. Everyone in this community is called to put their life on the line for the sake of the Gospel.
Karen Watson went to Iraq with the Baptist Missionary Association in 2004 to provide humanitarian aid because she loved Jesus. She was on her way with a group of other humanitarian workers to Mosul, the third largest city in Iraq, to work on some well projects when terrorists driving by in another automobile opened fire with automatic machine guns and grenade launchers. She died instantly. Before she left the United States, she wrote a letter to her pastor that was only to be opened in the event of her death. It read: Dear Pastor Phil and Pastor Roger,
You should only be opening this letter in the event of my death. When God calls, there are no regrets. I try to share my heart with you, my heart for the nations. I wasn't called to a place; I was called to Him. To obey was my objective. To suffer was expected. His glory is my reward. One of the most important things to remember right now is to preserve the work…..I thank you all so much for your prayers and support. Surely your reward in heaven will be great. Thank you for investing in my life and spiritual well-being. Keep sending out missionaries. Keep raising up fine pastors. In regards to any service, keep it small and simple. Yes, simple. Just preach the gospel……Be bold and preach the life-saving, life-changing, forever-eternal gospel. Give glory and honor to our Father. I once read in the missionary heart:
Care more than some think is wise
Risk more than some think is safe
Dream more than some think is practical
Expect more than some think is possible
I was called not to comfort or to success, but to obedience. There is no joy outside of knowing Jesus and serving Him. I love you two and my church family. In His care, Karen.
We are called to be missionaries and evangelists, wherever we live, wherever we work, wherever we’re sent and whatever we’re doing. The time to decide is now. In forty years of involvement in his church, Wilt Durant had led just one person to Christ. You know what they say, if only one person comes to Christ its worth all the effort, right? When he retired in 1992, he moved to Rogers, AR and joined Immanuel Baptist Church. One Sunday, his pastor preached on Soul Winning and Durant responded to the invitation and devoted the remainder of his life to winning souls. Since that time, he has prayed with over 600 people to receive Christ. He isn't casual about his witness. He averages visiting in over 60 homes a week. Why ? Because he is missional and he recognizes that he is a missionary and an evangelist for the sake of Jesus Christ.
We find ourselves at the conclusion of our Countercultural Community series and we feel it's important for us together to make a statement through a prayer of our intention. I invite you, as words appear from the Lord's Prayer on the screen, to say them with me as together we affirm who we want to be in this place, in this world, with God's help. I ask you to stand as we do this.
I am part of the church of the out-of-control. I was once a control junkie, but now I am an out-of-control disciple, part of the mission-driven movement of God.
Our Father, Who art in heaven, holy is Your name.
I've given up my control to God. I can't, but God can. I trust and obey the Spirit. I've jumped off the fence, I've stepped over the line, I've pulled out all the stops, I'm holding nothing back. There's no turning back, looking around, slowing down, backing away, letting up or shutting up. It's a life against the odds, outside the box, over-the-wall, countercultural.
Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
I've stopped trying to make life work and started trying to make life sing. I'm finished with second-hand sensations, third-rate dreams, low-risk, high-rise trades. I no longer live by and for anything but everything God-breathed, Christ-centered and Spirit-driven.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
I can't be bought by personalities, perks, positions or prizes. I won't give up, though I will give in to openness of mind, humbleness of heart and generosity of spirit. When short-handed and hard-pressed, I will never hang in there again. I will stand in there, I will run in there, I will pray in there, I will sacrifice in there, I will endure in there. In fact, I will do everything in there but hang. My face is upward, my feet are forward, my eyes are focused, my way is cloudy, my knees are worn, my seat uncreased, my heart burdened, my spirit light, my road narrow, my mission wide.
For yours is the kingdom, the power and glory forever.
And I won't back down, slow down, shut down or let down until I'm preached out, teached out, healed out or hauled out of Jesus' mission in the world entrusted to members of the church of the countercultural to unbind the confined, whether they're the down-trodden or the up-scale, the over-looked or the under-represented. Until we all together hear Him say. "Well done, my good and faithful, committed, courageous, compassionate, devoted, expectant, singularly focused, and fully yielded disciples." And all God's people said,