What Matters to God Matters to Us

What Matters to God Matters to Us

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This is the first in a 6-part sermon Lenten series called “Becoming a Contagious Christian.” In this series, Pastor Drew is talking about  what it means to be “salt” and “light.” (see Matthew 5). God desires each of us to be intentional in our Christian witness, both in deed and word. This series in intended to answer both why? and how? as it pertains to being prepared to share our “story.” The Scripture verse for the series is 1 Peter 3:15 – “Whenever anyone asks you to speak of your hope, be ready to defend it” (CEB). The theme for today’s message is people matter to God.

  • Sermon #2 (March 17)
  • Sermon #3 (March 24)
  • Sermon #4 (March 31)
  • Sermon #5 (April 7)
  • Sermon #6 (April 14, Palm Sunday)

Scripture: Luke 15:1-10

Can you name someone you absolutely love being around? Someone who, when you’re with them, makes you feel good, maybe even a bit more alive than usual? Maybe it’s someone who makes you laugh and enjoy yourself. Or someone who, whenever you’re together, always finds a way to encourage you and make you feel like there’s nothing you can’t do. Maybe it’s someone who’s willing to take risks where you tend to be more careful, and being around them makes life adventuresome for you. Or someone who lives a life of high integrity and honor such that being with them inspires you to be your very best self. Someone you’re drawn to and intrigued by. Anyone?

When I was In high school, for me that person was Bruce Smith. Bruce was four years older than me, and was one of the leaders of our church youth group. What I found so infectious about him were his stories. I always got the sense that he really enjoyed life, and he always had a funny story to tell. And he was always laughing throughout the telling of his stories. I really looked forward to youth group every week because I knew I’d be around Bruce for an hour or so.

In college, it was a friend named Andi, who was the first person I knew who talked about having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. For me, I found her faith very contagious, and often wished I had that same level of faith and love for Jesus. And, in fact, I joined my first Christian small group when I was in college alongside her and two other friends ours. That small group experience was transformative for my faith.

Most of us can probably identify persons whose lives we consider “contagious,” and we’re drawn to them as a result. The bigger question is, could that same thing we be said about us? Are we contagious in our faith? Jesus specifically refers to Christians as “the salt of the earth” (Mt. 5:13). Salt enhances the flavor of food, right? As salt, God intends Jesus-followers to enhance the “flavor” of life. Jesus has given us an abundant life, a life overflowing to the fullest with blessings, and that overflow is intended to be seen and experienced by others. That’s how I experienced my college friend, Andi, when it came to her faith.

light bulb with a white cross inside; next to it is the phrase, "Let it Shine"

Let your light shine

In that same vein, Jesus also calls Christians “the light of the world,” and then tells us to “let your light shine before all people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven” (Mt. 5:14, 16). Four important parts of this bit of life-instruction.

If it’s a given reality that the Christ-follower IS full of light (on account of Jesus dwelling within), then we’re told to consciously and intentionally allow that light to be visible.Please note the phrase on the wall, “Light visible to all.”[At this point, Pastor Drew asked the person running the computer to shutter the projector, in essence turning the screen black]. Though the wall behind me is dark and it appears as though the projector light has been turned off, in reality it’s still on. If you could see if from my perspective, you would see that there’s still light emanating from within the projector. In fact, I can assure you that there’s a new phrase being projecting onto the wall even though you can’t see it. Why? Because the light has been shuttered. It’s still there, but it’s not being allowed to shine forth. To prove my point, I’ll ask the computer tech to unshutter the projector light [which reveals a new phrase, “Light not visible to all”]. Because Jesus lives in you, the light is there. Jesus tells us to let that light shine…

Before all people.

That is, so that other people can clearly see it. Not just those who already value seeing the light of Christ, but even those for whom that light may not be very recognizable. You can see the light of a flashlight. But can you see the red portion of this light? Or the yellow portion? Or the blue portion? Unfiltered, you can’t. You just see the white light. But when held up to a prism, the various parts of that light are differentiated.

a 3-D prism showing the color spectrum going out of one side

Jesus Christ is like this prism. Those in whom he dwells can see the full spectrum of Jesus-light emanating from within. But those who aren’t yet Christ-followers will only see the light as a whole. But the point is, they can see it. And they can be drawn to it, even if they’re not every sure what they’re being drawn to, or why they feel drawn to it. That’s why Jesus is tell us to let your light shine before all people…

So they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven

We intentionally allow the light of Christ within to shine forth so that people, especially non-Christians, see it, with the hopes that they will be drawn to it and eventually come to faith in Jesus and, with that, praise their heavenly Father.

Being salt and light was Jesus’ terminology for having a contagious faith. For being a contagious Christian. Usually being contagious is a bad thing. But when it comes to the spiritual life, it’s actually our common call. God really wants us to “infect” others with the love of Jesus Christ.

"Contagious Faith" written above a row of matchsticks heads, one of which is lighted.

In his book, Becoming a Contagious Christian, Bill Hybels makes this assessment: “In their heart of hearts, I think all true followers of Christ long to become contagious Christians. Though unsure about how to do so or the risks involved, deep down they sense that there isn’t anything as rewarding as opening a person up to God’s love and truth.” What do you think?  Is he correct in his appraisal of our “heart of hearts,” that deep down within each of us is an unrealized longing to be able to share our faith with another?

If so, here’s how I might say it. I would say, The light of Jesus Christ within the believer is unsatisfied to simply shine inwardly upon itself. In fact, I think it would safe to say that if this inward-only glow goes on long enough, eventually it fades. It burns out. On the other hand, allowing it to shine so that others can see is like giving oxygen to a flame. It can breathe and come to life. So, I would agree that that desire is there, even if one doesn’t consciously recognize it.

Being salt and light was Jesus’ terminology for having a contagious faith.

Becoming a contagious Christian – in word and deed. Most, if not all, of us have very little problem with the deed part. We’re comfortable serving, and helping, and SHOWING our faith. It’s the word part that trips us up. We can show our faith to people, but talk about it? That’s where a lot of us put on the brakes. Even if we can acknowledge that we’re supposed to, and that we’d even like to, it’s nevertheless a big step to get to the place where we’re comfortable talking about the difference Jesus makes in my life.

Maybe our resistance to taking this next step is, in part, due to a lack of understanding of why we should be willing take this step and learn how to talk about our faith. Maybe it come down to this: we’ve never understood the importance of being able to share Jesus with others.

What if I told you that people matter to God? Would that come as any surprise to you? Of course not.

What if I told you that people really matter to God? I mean, really, really matter! Would that surprise you? Again, probably not.

Well, what would you say if I suggested that there are some people in our world who matter to God more than other people? He doesn’t love them more than others, because we’re all loved the same. But it’s that he has a greater sense of urgency for some than others.

I suggest this based on two stories Jesus told. Two different stores that share a common message. Luke 15 opens with Jesus being harshly judged for associating with sinners. In today’s parlay, we could just as easily call them “no counts,” because in the eyes of many, their lifestyle and life-choices make them persons who don’t count, to us or to God. Not only do they not contribute to society, but they’re seen as a drain on society. Junkies. Thugs. Criminals. Pimps. Pushers. Good-for-nothings. The homeless. Those permanently on social assistance such as welfare. The mentally ill. The list of “no counts” is long.

These are the kind of people Jesus was in the habit of talking with, and the respectable religious folk took issue with this. And in response to their complaints, he tells them two stories. First, a story about shepherd who realizes that he’s missing one of his sheep. And so he leaves the ninety-nine behind in order to find the one lost sheep. And when he gets back home, he throws a party for having found the one.

Second, a story about a woman who loses one of her ten silver coins. She doesn’t say, “Well, that’s fine, I still have the other nine.” No, she diligently searches for it until it’s found, then throws a party for having found it.

Bringing it back to the “no-counts” standing around him, Jesus reveals the truth about God’s people priorities: “In the same way, I tell you, joy breaks out in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who changes both heart and life” (Luke 15:10). Let’s be very clear about something. You and I matter to God. But I think this story reveals something about God’s priorities when it comes to who matters to God. You and I are the ninety-nine sheep and the nine coins. Yes, we matter to God, but he’s willing to “leave” us behind in order to go find those who are spiritually lost and separated from him. We’ve already been “found,” and we’re safely within the fold we call the Kingdom of God.

But there are people outside of this fold, outside of the Kingdom, people who don’t know Jesus Christ. I believe these are those who matter the most to God. These are the ones who really, really matter to God. Why? Because they still dead in their sins. I’m not calling them bad people, because the truth is, a lot of them are really good people, people who’d give you the proverbial shirt off their back. But because being found isn’t about being good, from a biblical perspective, those who haven’t yet come to saving faith in Jesus Christ are spiritually separated from God. Lost. And more than anything else, God’s greatest desire is for them to be found.

close-up of fire with the overlaid text, "Becoming a Contagious Christian"

If persons separated from God matter to him, then they ought to matter to us as well. When it comes to being contagious Christians, this is the starting point. It’s a change in perspective we’re after. A change from we matter to we matter but they matter more. If you and I can see and understand this spiritual reality, then maybe it’ll help motivate us to want to be contagious in our faith. Maybe knowing who matters to God an awful lot will be the oxygen that gets poured on the flame of our own faith, so that we allow the unrealized desire to become contagious Christians to come to the surface of our consciousness.

And so I ask, would you like to become a contagious Christian? If so, then join me for the next few weeks on this journey into what’ll be for many of us new territory. New, yes, but also adventurous!

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