2016 Areas of Focus (Part 2
Each year the Orchard pastor-elders select areas of focus, in prayerful consideration of how the Lord is leading us as a church in obedience to Him. Last week Nate wrote about our first area of focus for 2016: holiness. Like the first, our second area of focus flows from the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20a, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
These two emphases (holiness and outreach) are more closely related than may first appear. If we consider Jesus, he is not only our Lord and Savior, he is also our model and example. While Jesus lived a perfectly HOLY life, separated from sin, he was not separated from sinners. This is one of the biggest obstacles for us today. Many of us tend to create a Christian bubble and separate ourselves from unbelievers. This was an obstacle for the religious leaders in Jesus’ day as well. Their critique of Jesus in Mark 2:16 was this: "Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?"
There is a great title of a book by Craig Blomberg that captures how our two emphases fit together. It's called "Contagious Holiness: Jesus' Meals with Sinners". Blomberg says this: “It remains striking how willing [Jesus] was to socialize, even in the intimacy of table fellowship, with anyone and everyone for the sake of accomplishing his mission". Jesus pursued relationships with lost people, because that was part of his mission. And now he's commissioned us for that same purpose!
If we are honest, most of us err toward the Christian bubble. Unlike Jesus, we isolate ourselves from meaningful relationships with unbelievers.
When Jesus prays for his disciples, and ultimately for us in John 17, he prays for holiness (our sanctification in the truth). He also prays to his Father “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one." He wants us to remain IN the world to testify to the truth before the people in the world by the power of the Holy Spirit.
So our prayer for us Orchard this year is that our first emphasis (holiness) does not keep us in a Christian bubble, but rather that it shines before unbelievers, as we build relationships with them like Jesus did, and that our holiness would be contagious like his was.
Our practical challenge this year for every single one of us is to identify 2 people (2 unbelievers) for you to focus on. Now, most of us have extended family members we pray for, and that’s great. But we want these 2 people to NOT be related to you. We want to stretch ourselves. The Lord has uniquely placed each of us in situations where we interface with different people. So pray about who the Lord would have you pursue. Pursue a deeper friendship. Get to know them better. Find ways to spend time with them. Pray for opportunities to discuss real life issues and let the light shine through. It has been said the best evangelism is "normal life with gospel intentionality".
Robert Tuttle, a modern day evangelist, mentioned in a lecture that he and his wife have unbelievers in their house for dinner 2-3 times per week. “Why?” he asked. And I loved his answer:
“Because I like them.”
Let's recognize there are people all around us created in the image of God - just like you and me. They may be interesting or they may be strange - just like you and me. They may have problems in their marriage, problems in their jobs, problems with their kids - just like you and me.
And they desperately need Jesus…
(Just like you and me)