At Jesus’ Feet

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays as we gather with loved ones to enjoy great food and fun, maybe watch a little football, and pause to say thanks. Hearing the story of Jesus healing the ten lepers on this Thanksgiving weekend, I am grateful that Jesus has the power to miraculously restore our physical bodies. But I’m even more grateful that Jesus, the One who went to the cross to take on the sins of the world and was raised from the dead to proclaim forgiveness in His name, is our Savior. The Bible tells us eventually the whole world will gather at Jesus’ feet, just like the one Samaritan out of the ten who were healed. He came back to Jesus to say, Thank you, Jesus, and, in the moment of falling at His feet, realized Jesus was more than a miracle. Through the eyes of faith, he realized Jesus is the Son of God and our Savior. Someday the world will gather at Jesus’ feet to say, Jesus Christ, you are Lord. We thank and praise you.

Through the ages, biblical scholars have compared the illness of leprosy to the human condition of sinfulness. Leprosy in Jesus’ time was a terrible thing, not unlike a death sentence. The person experiencing leprosy would eventually have a sensation of fatigue and pain in the joints. The patches on the skin and nodules under the skin would bubble up eventually making the person unrecognizable. The lumps would ulcerate, oozing a foul stench. Their eyebrows would fall off, their voices would rasp as their vocal cords ulcerated, and their breathing would wheeze. Then they’d lose sensation in their extremities. Eventually their fingers and toes would fall off. They would lose the ability to reason or function, then they would go into a coma and die.

But leprosy was also a relational disease. It drove a person from their home, family, and their village. Some people saw it as a judgment from God. People, in their fear, would pick up and hurl stones at them to keep them at a distance. They had to, by Jewish law, yell out, “Unclean! Unclean!” And if they touched anyone, that person would be considered defiled.

Imagine being diagnosed with leprosy and knowing you would never be touched again, living out your days in isolation and separation, perhaps even feeling spiritually abandoned by God.

Leprosy is an apt analogy to human sinfulness. You see, I confess to you that I have a sickness too. Through the years, I have used a spiritual exercise to examine my own heart before God with a series of questions.

1. Is any part of my life in direct disobedience to the word of God?

2. Is my heart in any way rebellious or defiant toward God?

3. Is my behavior causing an alienation of relationships, especially those closest to me?

4. Do my behavioral choices bring a negative impact to others and leave me with a consciousness of guilt or a dirty feeling?

5. Do I find myself repeating actions over and over, even though I’ve grown to loath them, as if I am in bondage and powerless?

6. Do my words constructively build people up or destructively rip them apart?

7. Have I lost my joy? Have I diminished in my faith? Do I feel a sense of lostness in the darkness, of no direction?

These are questions that reveal a profound truth about my own sin-sick heart. That’s why I love the old hymn, “There is a balm in Gilead, that makes the wounded whole.

There is a balm in Gilead that heals the sin-sick soul.”

In the story of Jesus miraculously healing the ten lepers, all of them experienced the miracle of physical restoration, yet only one returned to say thank you. That’s not unlike today where all people in the world receive profound blessings from the hand of their heavenly Father, but just a small percentage acknowledge Him as the source of all goodness in their life. Likewise, Jesus freely offers the forgiveness of sins and grace to all people, yet very few kneel before Him and ask for forgiveness, confessing their sin and affirming faith in Him as the Son of God, our Savior, and our Lord.

Leprosy is a great analogy to the human condition of sin. Sin impacts all we do. It diminishes our capacity, it affects our relationships, it permeates our attitudes, it hurts and destroys and breaks.

The Bible tells us that sin is not an isolated, occasional naughty deed or slipup, but part of the human condition in a broken world. It is a power, which dominates and determines our whole being. We hear that in verses like Jeremiah 17 where we read, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick. Who can understand it?” Paul wrote in Romans 7, “The good that I would do, I end up not doing, and I end up doing the stuff that I hate. Wretched person that I am! Who is going to deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ!”

So I am not unlike those lepers standing out on the countryside yelling for Jesus, “Come, have mercy on me.” I need look no further than my own heart to see the symptoms of selfish ego and brokenness that permeates the world and causes me to reel and stagger sometimes like a boxer who’s been struck by a vicious hook to the head. I lose my way. I need Jesus to be merciful to me.

So I cry out to Him, not just for physical healing or blessings of life or the solving of my problems or the removal of my obstacles. I come before Jesus to also confess, I am a broken sinner. Please forgive me. Thank you for going to the cross and shedding your blood so I might be washed clean again. Reconcile me and restore me into a relationship with my heavenly Father. You are my Savior.

Jesus is not only a miracle worker, He is also the Savior of the world. Years ago I remember reading a story about a parish pastor on the prairies of South Dakota who was working with a young boy as the children were preparing for a Christmas pageant in the church. He was puzzled by the fact that this intelligent boy was struggling to learn his line. Playing off the truth that Jesus, the Savior born of the Virgin Mary, was laid in the wood of a manger but eventually would be nailed to the wood of the cross, the boy was to deliver the line, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Echoing the words of the angels who sang that Christmas song, “For to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth with whom God is well pleased.”

The struggling boy, came to the mic. the night of the Christmas pageant, and he froze. His brain wouldn’t work. He began to weep before that packed church. He wept for his powerlessness.

A few months later, on a winter’s day, the family of that young boy gathered by an open grave. The boy, who was unable to learn or deliver his line in the pageant, had a brain tumor, and it took his life in the blink of an eye. Now, by that empty grave, the pastor said the line the boy was to have delivered from Isaiah 53: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, and the Lord laid upon him the iniquity of us all.” And then it continues, “and by his stripes, we are healed. We are made whole.”

Jesus is the Word made flesh. Just like He did to those ten lepers, Jesus can speak a word that reverses the effects of sin and brokenness in this world and can restore all things by His power.

The Word of Jesus to heal the lepers is a window. It is a clue, a key to understanding that Jesus is God Himself. The wind and the waves and even the demons must obey Him, and in His light, the darkness must flee.

I need Jesus to work miracles for me. But more than that, I need Jesus to be my Savior. Not everyone who prays for a miraculous intervention with a healing receives a miracle from God. But, because of the cross of Jesus, who, in His mercy, love, and grace, sacrificed His life there, though He was perfect, and then was raised from the dead, death had no mastery over Him. He has the power to make all things right.

Someday this broken world will be healed. And so we, who pray for a miracle in this world and don’t receive it the way we would like, can still believe that someday Jesus will make all things new because of the cross and the resurrection.

So our journey of faith always begins at the cross. It begins at the feet of Jesus. Just like the Samaritan who returned to say thank you, we take our place at the feet of Jesus to touch His body with our love and faith. By His grace, which flows to us, He forgives our sin, reconciles us to God the Father, and begins a process of healing our sin-sick soul and restoring us. We become, by His word of promise, the people of God Ð forgiven, filled with His Holy Spirit, filled with faith Ð who fall at His feet and offer Him the praise and thanks He deserves.

On this Thanksgiving weekend, praise God that, in His power, He can do miracles for you. But at the feet of Jesus, praise God that He has also saved you from your sin and reconciled you to God.

Preacher Roland Allen tells a story about a night when he preached a message in an evangelism service. After the service, a missionary who had served for many years on a field in India talked about how God had used him to help the people of that region deal with a progressive blindness. People were born with healthy vision, but lost their sight as they became older. The missionary developed a treatment, which would stop the progression of blindness.

As people came to him for his treatment, they realized that if it weren’t for the missionary, they would go completely blind, but because of him, their sight was saved. Since their language had no word to say thank you, out of gratitude they used a word that meant I will tell of your name. Wherever they went, they would tell of the name of the missionary who had cured them of their blindness. They had received something so wonderful that they eagerly proclaimed it. I will tell of your name.

We are the people of Jesus. From Jesus we have received wholeness in His grace and love. By His death and resurrection, we have the promise of the forgiveness of sins, and we have been reconciled to the heart of our heavenly Father.

Jesus, I fall at your feet to give you thanks, and for the rest of my life, as God gives me breath, I will offer you my thanks and praise. I will tell of your name.

Telling Your Story

This story from today’s text shows Jesus’ power to overcome evil and change a life. Yet, as fascinated as I may be with the first part of it, I want to focus on the end. It contains a great teaching for Christian followers to consider and apply in their lives.

The man in this story was rescued by Jesus from his captivity and misery, his helplessness and hopelessness. He wanted to go with Jesus on His mission trip, so he asked to come along, but Jesus wouldn’t let him. Why is that, do you suppose?

Some would suggest he would have been a distraction and an impediment to Christ’s mission. He was a non-Jewish person, and they would be spending most of their time in Jewish territory. I think, though, that the text gives us a clue why Jesus said no. Listen to these words again:

“Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.”

Jesus needed that individual to stay right where he was, at home among those who knew him for what he was and could see what he had now become in Christ.

Max Lucado writes in one of his books, “There it is, the commissioning of the first missionary, one minute insane, the next in Christ. No training, no teaching. All he knew was, Jesus could scared the hell out of hell, and apparently that was enough!” So the man went to his home as Jesus told him and proclaimed how much Jesus had done for him.

I love the way the story ends. “And everyone was amazed.” Did you catch all that? Lord, I want to go with you!

No, you stay home and tell your story of what I did for you to your friends. So he told it, and everyone in that non-Jewish area was amazed by this man’s story! They began to think that perhaps there’s something to this Jesus. The man made an impact for the cause of Jesus Christ by staying home and telling his story.

So what do we learn from this story? Someone might comment, Well, you don’t have to go off to a foreign land to tell the gospel and have an impact for Jesus. That is true, although I do give thanks to God for those who are out in the mission field in far away lands doing their work for the sake of the gospel. But we can do it right here, too. Most important, Jesus wants you to tell the story of what He’s done in your life. You may not think it matters much, but this story can be used by God to positively impact someone else’s life for eternity.

We have been talking these last few weeks about how sometimes just a simple walk across the room in Christ’s name can have a powerful, eternal significance in someone else’s life. Last week we looked at the importance of knowing how to talk to people about Jesus and the cross, how His death on the cross and rising from the grave becomes the bridge across the great chasm between God and humanity. How, as we trust in Christ, we are reconciled to God. It is important to know how to tell that story.

We also talked about how important it is to develop friendships with people, become people-focused, and discover their stories as we build these friendships. What I’ve discovered is that, after you’ve listened to someone else’s story, typically they will eventually ask you about your story. Therefore, it is important to be ready to tell your story of what Jesus has done for you.

Peter picks up on that as he tells the early Christians, “Always be prepared to give an accounting of the hope that is within you” (I Peter 3:15). You may not believe your story is important, but God does. It is unique. It is so unique that God spent a lifetime training you to be the best person to tell it. You are an expert on yourself. Sharing what you have seen, heard, and experienced in your life has a remarkable power with other people as you point them to Jesus.

So you might be wondering how to put your story together so you can share it effectively, comfortably, and confidently with someone else. This is what I am going to help you with today.

1. First it is important to write it out. Writing your story will help you organize your thoughts and give you a coherent storyline that someone will be able to stay with and follow with you.

2. Keep it brief. It should be a hundred words or less. They can always ask you questions after you’ve shared your story, and then you can give more details.

3. Also, keep it simple and easy-to-understand with one clear theme. Your plot line might be, “Before Christ and After Christ.” What you were before you met Jesus and then what life has been like since you met Him.

George is a guy in my Bible study group who was raised in unchurched home. He shared his story. I had no belief in God. I went into the military as a young man and realized somewhere along the way that something was missing. So I had a conversation with the military chaplain who pointed me to a God who loves me in Jesus Christ, and trusting in Him makes a difference. I have been walking with Christ since. He’s made the difference.

Or listen to Bob. I was nothing more than a bored, rich guy. Then I met Christ. He’s moved me from success to significance. In my relationship with Jesus Christ, I am finally discovering a purpose for my life.

A person in my congregation sent this note to me. “Before I met Christ,” this person writes, “I was plagued with loneliness. I grew up in a broken, dysfunctional family. My days were spent alone, my nights isolated. But then I met Christ, and He actually adopted me into His family. Now I know what it means to be wanted, cared for, and to be loved.

Did you catch the pattern? Before Christ, meeting Christ, and the difference Christ has made since.

Some of you, though, say, Well, that’s not my story. I’ve been what you might call a “lifer” in the faith. I’ve always had Christ in my life, I knew Him as a child and have continued to walk with Him. Do I have a story to tell?

Of course, you do! You can tell of a time in your life when you were particularly glad you had Jesus Christ in your life. Maybe it was during an illness or a family crisis, a time of loss, or financial crisis, and Jesus got you through it! In some amazing way, Jesus walked you through it.

A lot of us have stories like that. David, in my Bible study group, tells of how he walked with Jesus all his life. But life is not without its bumps along the way, and he thanks God he has Jesus. David was recently diagnosed with cancer, and he doesn’t know where he would have been without Jesus Christ to turn to in this time of crisis.

Irv is another dear friend in my Bible study group. He’s always been a believer. He said, Recently, when my wife passed away. It has been hard. I am so glad I have Christ in my life. He has ministered to me during this difficult time of loss through my church family who have been there for me.

Some people have a prodigal son or daughter story to tell. They were raised in the faith, but got lost and messed up along the way. Then they came home, and they are glad they did.

I have a personal story like that. I had a shallow faith when I left home to go to college. I became distracted by all the fun things this world offered, and so I left Jesus behind. I was messed up and very empty inside. But then someone helped me and I came back to Christ. Jesus has kept me on track when it comes to living my life. He knows what makes my life work best, and I’m so glad to be home with Him.

These are stories, personal stories, faith stories. You can write one of your own.

As you are writing your faith story, keep it intelligible. Don’t use religion-ese, Christian clichŽs, or deep religious language. Use everyday talk that people can actually understand. Make it clear.

Finally, keep your story humble. Don’t reflect some sort of superiority like, I’ve got it together and you don’t. Remember. You are just one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread. The hero of your story is not you; It’s Jesus. Keep it humble.

And after you’ve written your story out, outline it. Practice telling it on someone, or, if you don’t have someone, tell it to a mirror. Get comfortable talking about it out loud. You want to practice hitting the high points, keeping it brief and understandable.

YOU CAN DO THIS! All of this might sound a little overwhelming and make you anxious. You may have never considered doing something like this before. But you can do this! And I’ll tell you why.

Remember when Jesus, in His last session with the disciples said, “Now go and make disciples. (Go tell people about me.)” He sent them into the world with this promise (His last words), “Lo, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:18-20). As you tell your story, as you tell HIS story, as you minister to people by listening to their stories, remember Jesus’ promise, “Lo, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Jesus is with you as you walk across the room in His name to learn someone’s story, share a bit of your own story, and perhaps, eventually, get to the point where you can tell His story.

Be of good courage and confidence as you take that walk. Jesus really IS with you when you walk across the room toward someone in His name. I want you to believe this. Christ can use you to have an eternal impact on someone else’s life. It might just be a matter of walking across a room.

Tell HIS Story

I have a bit of a confession to make. I am a Lutheran. I was born and raised in a Lutheran family. I was baptized as an infant in a Lutheran church. I was brought to a Lutheran Sunday school where I was taught by Lutheran lay people who believed in the Word of God. I went to a Lutheran confirmation class where I memorized Luther’s Small Catechism and in my ninth grade year stood before the congregation and affirmed my baptism, signed the certificate myself, and claimed the inheritance Jesus has given me.

I attended a number of lutefisk dinners and ate a lot of lefse and krumkake along the way. I know more Ole and Lena jokes than you can shake a stick at.

I went to a Lutheran college, graduated and then attended a Lutheran seminary where I was trained to become a Lutheran pastor. Thirty-five years ago, I was ordained a Lutheran pastor in the old American Lutheran Church. I have served two Lutheran churches, and I am proud to say I am a Lutheran.

A couple weeks ago, we observed Reformation Sunday at our church. This is when we celebrate our religious roots Ð the story of Martin Luther. We remember how, at one time in history, only one church was in this world Ð the Roman Catholic Church. It had gotten a bit off track and forgot some very strong scriptural truths. People had come to believe that salvation was dependent upon their works.

Martin Luther, who lived in Germany during this time, was a young man who feared God and had a tortured soul. He believed the only thing that could possibly save him was to enter a monastery and become a monk. So he entered the Augustinian cloister in Erfurt, Germany where he studied and carried out strict spiritual disciplines. Still, he lacked peace with God. He even, at one time, thought he hated God, believing God was nothing more than a great judge in the sky sending people to the fires of hell. Luther just couldn’t measure up.

Eventually he was pointed in the direction of God’s Word, and as he began to study the Word, he discovered he was a gifted teacher. So Luther set off to teach at a university where, in the middle of his studies of the book of Romans, he had a spiritual awakening. It was this particular passage in today’s text that really turned Luther around. “I am not ashamed of the gospel,” Paul writes. “It is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith”

Luther discovered a holy and righteous God, who did a holy and righteous thing, for an unholy and unrighteous world. He gave His Son, Jesus Christ, to die upon a cross so we might be given the gift of righteousness by being in a right relationship with God. We receive it by faith in Christ.

Luther is quoted as saying, “I had greatly longed to understand Paul’s letter to the Romans, and nothing stood in the way but one expression, Ôthe righteousness of God,’ because I took it to mean the righteousness whereby God is righteous and acts righteously in punishing the unrighteous. Night and day I pondered until I grasped the truth that the righteousness of God is the righteousness whereby, through grace and sheer mercy, He justifies us by faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning, and, whereas, before the righteousness of God had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul became to me a gateway into heaven.”

This caused quite a stir in the Roman Catholic Church as Luther began to share the Gospel of Grace. He was eventually thrown out, considered to be spiritually dangerous for people, excommunicated, and branded a heretic. He and even had to run for his life as a danger to the state. Luther turned the world upside down through his discovery of this Gospel of Grace, and from it came this great theology, which I have come to love. We are people of the Word alone (Sola scriptura), meaning the Bible is our only authority in matters of faith and life; we are people of faith alone (Sola fida), meaning we are saved by trusting in what Jesus Christ has done for us at the cross; and we are justified by grace alone (Sola gratia), meaning we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. There is no other salvation or Savior for our sin but Him who said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.” That is what life is all about.

I love the sacraments of grace. I am a Lutheran Ð I love Holy Baptism in which I am made God’s child, a member of His family, and an heir of His grace, and in a covenant with Hm. I love Holy Communion where I come to the Lord’s table, receive His body and blood in the bread and wine, and am reminded in the words that my sins are forgiven. He is with me. This is for me.

Grace! Grace, the Gospel of Grace! That is what our world needs to hear today still. It is what saves us and changes lives. It is why Paul says in today’s text, “I am so eager to get to you Romans in order to share with you the gospel about God’s righteousness and what he has done for you in Jesus Christ.”

I am proud to be a part of the Lutheran movement Ð that Gospel of Grace. Where would we be without Luther’s discovery in this world today? It would be a far poorer world, a graceless world perhaps.

Many years ago, Pastor Homer Larsen, Christian Crusaders’ former radio preacher, was working on an evangelism conference in Kansas City with the leader of the Southern Baptist convention’s evangelism department, Bill Hogue. One day, as they were riding together in the car, Bill said to Homer, “I really love you Lutherans. You have the best theology in the world with your emphasis on grace. We Southern Baptists get a little off sometimes with our legalism, and the Roman Catholics haven’t quite figured grace out yet totally. But you Lutherans, you’ve given us that grace!”

Homer’s heart swelled with pride as this man shared his admiration, but then his bubble was burst when Bill went on in the next breath to say, “But you Lutherans do the worst job of getting that Word out there to the world.” Bill was correct. Evangelism and witnessing were lacking in our Lutheran Church. Heaven help us to not keep this wonderful, beautiful gospel of grace, which has been such a rich blessing in our lives, to ourselves.

A little humor: What you get when you cross a Lutheran with a Jehovah’s Witness? A person who knocks on doors and hopes no one answers or doesn’t know what to say when someone does answers. ☺

How do we go about getting the word about God’s grace out into the world?

As a preacher, I can tell you that sharing the message of the Gospel of Grace is wonderful. It needs to be preached every time brothers and sisters in Christ get together in the sanctuary to worship the Lord. It needs to be shared on a daily basis. It needs to be praised and given gratitude every day of our lives as we remember that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. When Jesus said to go make disciples, He wasn’t thinking just about inviting people to church. He also intended this work to be done face-to-face, telling the story person-to-person. In this situation, powerful things can happen as the Holy Spirit works through the telling of God’s story of grace through Jesus.

How do we tell the Gospel? A favorite illustration of mine is called the bridge illustration. It begins by talking about us and God. God created us and wants to have a relationship with us. He values us, and we are precious in His sight. However, all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Therefore, a great gap exists between God and us, which leads to some serious consequences. We become spiritually dead, and separation from God awaits us when we die in this world.

When we reduce religion to simply doing good works and hoping God will see those good deeds and welcome us into a relationship with Him, we always fall short. It’s like giving your employees a quota, but not telling them the quota. It’s absolutely frustrating. Like Luther, who was tortured by this, we never know if we’ve done enough.

If you are trying to work out this type of salvation in your life, here is the quota: Jesus said, “Be perfect as my Father in heaven is perfect.” My wife has never told me Ð not once Ð that I am perfect. None of us are. But God loves us so much (even in our imperfection) that He gave us His Son, Jesus Christ, to come into the world and die on a cross to pay the penalty for our sins. That cross is the bridge over the gap between God and us. When a person trusts in what Christ has done, they cross that bridge and receive the gift of eternal life. It is free for all who will receive it. That is the gospel.

When I tell this illustration, I stop at this point and ask, “As you think about this story, where are you in that picture?” “What’s getting in the way of you receiving Christ?”

Another way of talking about the gospel, which I have used in the past and has been effective for me, is talking about the DO versus DONE illustration.

We have two kinds of religions in the world Ð the religions of the world and Christianity. The religions of the world spell salvation, D – O, meaning do this and do that, and then God will love you and let you into His paradise.

Christianity is spells salvation, D – O – N – E, meaning salvation has all been done for us by Jesus at the cross. We simply trust in what Christ has done for us.

You can also use John 3:16 to share the Gospel. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” God loves you, but, because of your sin, you are perishing. Out of His great love for you, God gave His Son, Jesus, who died on a cross for your sinfulness, then rose from the grace, victorious over sin, death, and the devil. God the Father promises everyone who trusts in His Son Jesus the gift of eternal life to count on beginning right now. You can insert your name in the passage: For God so loved _________, that He gave . . . .

So here is your homework. Take one of these models Ð the bridge, DO versus DONE, or John 3:16 Ð and practice telling the good news. Practice, practice, practice. Be ready to tell it smoothly and clearly when the door is open to share the Gospel of Grace. Then pray for those open doors to come. The Lord loves it when you pray to Him like that. He will provide the experience for you, and you will become a doer of the Word.

My favorite parable by Soren Kierkegaard is about a duck who lives in a town where only ducks live. Every Sunday the ducks waddle out of their homes and down Main Street to the First Duck Church. They waddle into the sanctuary and squat in their proper pews. The duck choir waddles in, takes its place, and sings their duck praises. The duck minister comes forward, opens the duck Bible and reads to them, Dear Ducks, God has given you wings! With wings you can fly. With wings you can mount up and soar like eagles. No walls can confine you. No fences can hold you. God has given you have wings, so fly!

All the ducks shouted, “Amen!” and they waddled home.

Dear brothers and sister in Christ, let us not be waddlers. Instead, let us be ready to fly into someone’s life with the Good News of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.

Living in 3D

There have been several stories on the news lately about people who have gotten lost. A few weeks ago, the Coast Guard was searching for some sailors who were lost at sea. A young man in my area disappeared and search parties had been formed to find him. Not long ago, I read of a person who had wandered away from a nursing care facility. Two days ago, the news reported a little girl who was missing. Again and again we see stories about people getting lost.

God’s Word tells us that we live in a world full of lost people who need to be found. But it is talking about a different kind of lostness. This lostness has some serious, eternal consequences attached to it. It is spiritual lostness, being far from God. Jesus tells us that God loves lost people and wants them to be found. He is actually in the lost-and-found business, and He expects those of us who follow Jesus to join Him in this enterprise.

In today’s passage, Jesus touches upon this once again in a statement He made in the Sermon on the Mount. “You are the salt of the earth.” The word, you, is emphatic; it’s meant to be taken personally. He is talking to those who were following Him. “You are the salt of the earth.”

“You are the salt of the earth” is a statement telling the hearers, You are valuable. You are valuable, first of all, to God. Salt in those days was a precious commodity. Rome actually paid their soldiers with salt. Thus came the saying, “He’s worth his salt.” Jesus is telling the people, You are valuable to God. You were created in His image. You have been died for at the cross by Jesus Christ, and, as a follower of Christ, you are a holy instrument of His, set apart to do great things for the kingdom of God.

Jesus is also saying, You are valuable to the world around you. You are the salt of the earth. I love the fact that Jesus says, “You are the salt.” It is exclusive, meaning you are not just some salt, but THE salt, because you follow The Way, The Truth, and The Life.

Why was salt considered so valuable? Well first of all, salt creates thirst. When we go to a movie theater and order a box of popcorn, they salt it down and then charge us double the price for the pop because they know salty popcorn makes us thirsty. Jesus is saying when people brush up against you, you have the opportunity to make them thirsty for God.

Salt is also a preservative. If you were a fisherman in the Sea of Galilee and wanted to get your fish to the market, you would salt it down to keep it from spoiling before you get it to town. Salt preserves and keeps things from rotting. Jesus seems to be saying, You are valuable to this earth, which is deteriorating. You can run into deteriorating people and actually be a preservative in their lives. You can give them life again.

Salt is also a great flavor, a spice. There’s nothing like a little salt in a bowl of soup to give it just the right taste. Likewise, you have the ability to spice up somebody else’s life as they rub up against yours as a follower of Jesus.

To be called salt, then, is to have the ability to affect others positively for God, to help them be found. You really are valuable to the people around you.

But here is the thing about salt – it is only good when it is in close proximity to the object that needs salting. In other words, salt is only good when it gets out of the salt shaker. The church is not meant to be a salt warehouse. We are not to keep the salt to ourselves and just salt one another. We are called to be salt in the world, to touch lives. We are to not just huddle and hibernate, but let that Gospel, which has taken a grip on our lives, have an impact on the lives of those around us.

How can I be salt of the earth? The answer to this question is what we’re calling, “Living in 3-D”. We need to follow three Ds if we’re going to be salt.

The first D of a 3-D follower of Jesus is the task of Developing Friendships. Followers will be engaging in the lives of people around them, some who may be far from a relationship with God. When we work on developing friendships, we are actually following in the footsteps of Jesus.

A paraphrased version of II Corinthians chapter 5, says, “God was in Christ making friends with the world.” So being interested in people and building relationships with them is very Christlike. We need to be very intentional about it. I live by this adage (and I hope you do too), People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. If you are going to be salt in someone’s life and share the gospel with them, you need to have a relationship established with them.

What reasons, do you suppose, get in the way of developing those kinds of friendships with those who might be far from God?

One reason, which I confess for myself, is that we are easily distracted with our own life and stop paying attention to people. We stop wondering about their relationship with God. When we lose that intentionality, we are not going to be developing friendships with people. We need to, then, begin seeing people and wondering about them.

Another reason is we have a tendency within the Christian faith to live in a cocoon. The more involved we are with Jesus, the more our relational world begins to shrink and is inhabited only with Christian people and Christian things. This isolationism gets in the way of developing friendships with unbelievers in Jesus.

So 3-D people are busy developing friendships and communicating the message, I like you, and I care about you. I am interested in you. A person makes a friend by being a friend, no strings attached. Just as Jesus was interested in people, likewise He calls us to be interested in others as well.

You don’t have to look far. God places all kinds of people in your path during your daily routines. It might be the parent sitting next you at a hockey game. It might be teammates on a softball team or a bowling team or golf buddies. It might be a waiter with whom you’ve become familiar or the clerk who makes your sandwich at Subway. Perhaps it is the cashier at the gas station or the neighbor in your cul-de-sac or your barber or the nurses taking care of you in the hospital or the home. All these people are those whom God values and wants you to value too. So get interested in developing friendships with people.

The second D is Discover Stories. As 3-D people developing friendships with those around them, listen to their stories, ask good, open questions of others, and show interest in their life’s experiences. God gave us two ears and one mouth for a good reason. Learn people’s stories. Everyone has one. It might be a positive or a negative experience with the church or with God or with the faith they walked away from. It may be that they just have never had the opportunity to know they can have a relationship with God.

Get to know their stories. When you listen to someone, you’re expressing value to them as well as picking up valuable information so you can proceed sensitively to their needs.

Finally, 3-D people, after they’ve developed a friendship and discovered people’s stories, Discern Next Steps with the Holy Spirit’s help. Next steps are a little bit riskier. It’s going a little bit deeper, taking the conversation to another level. The 3-D person asks the question, How can I add value to this individual’s life and be helpful to them? What resources can I sprinkle into this individual’s life?

Maybe it is a deeper question about their spiritual journey and being willing to listen. Maybe it is seeing a need in their life and trying to fill it. It might be offering them generous use of your time and your attention. Maybe it’s giving them a CD, a DVD, a book that has been meaningful to you. Whatever it may be, you are busy being a resource provider to them. You are with them for the long haul, being patient and just loving on them.

Being salt in people’s lives requires 3-D living.

  • Developing friendships
  • Discovering stories
  • Discerning next steps and carrying them out

You can do this! You can make a difference for Christ! You can be the salt in people’s lives.

By the way, did you notice Jesus’ concern in today’s reading for maintaining our potency as salt? He said, “But if salt loses its taste, it’s not good for much.” In other words, as you pour yourself into others, you also need to take care of yourself. Keep feeding yourself on the Word of God and living that Word out so you can be a light that shines for people as they see God at work in you. You need to be rubbing shoulders with other Christians in a small group setting or in a worship setting as you are fed with the Word of God. And pray, pray, pray that God might use you.

Someone might wonder, This sounds like a lot of effort. Is it really worth it? Let me read you a letter from a new believer to a friend who influenced her for Christ.

When we met, I began to discover a new vulnerability, a warmth and a lack of pretense that impressed me. I saw in you a thriving spirit. No signs of internal stagnation anywhere. I could tell you were a growing person, and I liked that. I saw you had strong self-esteem, not based on the fluff of self-help books, but on something a whole lot deeper. I saw that you live by convictions and priorities and not just by convenience, selfish pleasure, and financial gain, and I had never met anyone like that before.

Here is somebody who has really maintained their potency by living in God’s Word and following it. The letter goes on . . .

I felt a depth of love and concern as you listened to me and didn’t judge me. You tried to understand me. You sympathized and celebrated with me. You demonstrated kindness and generosity, not just to me but also to the other people as well.

And you stood for something. You were willing to go against the grain of society and follow what you believe to be true, no matter what people said, no matter how much it cost you. For those reasons and a whole host of others, I found myself really wanting what you had. Now that I’ve become a Christian, I wanted to write to tell you that I’m grateful beyond words for how you lived out your Christian faith in front of me.

Is it worth it? Absolutely!

My encouragement to you today: develop friendships, discover people’s stories, and, by the power the Holy Spirit working in you as a gospel-filled person, discern what the next steps could be so you can be a blessing in an individual’s life who God has placed in your life.

You can do this! Just walk across the room. It’s time to get started.

The Single Greatest Gift

Many of us have taken, and will probably continue to take, a lot of walks in our lifetimes. Some of these walks are for pleasure, some for exercise or therapy, some are simply out of necessity to get from one place to the next.

Some walks are very memorable and stick with us. I remember walking my daughter Martha down the aisle on her wedding day not that long ago. What a wonderful experience that I’ll never forget! I remember walking the Inca trail in South America to Machu Picchu. I remember as a child walking to a new school in a community to which we just moved, and wondering how I would be received in that new class.

The next few weeks we’re going to be talking about a walk that can actually have eternal significance in someone else’s life. It is a short walk across a room to connect with an individual and point them in the direction of Jesus Christ. Sometimes a simple walk across the room can have a huge impact on someone else.

Pastor Bill Hybels tells the story of an encounter that he had at a hotel luncheon. The man sitting across from him was African American. They introduced themselves to the people sitting around the table and his name sounded Muslim. During the banquet, as the speaker was giving his speech, the man mouthed these words across the table to Bill Hybels, “I love your books.” Bill wondered what he meant by that. The man continued, “Can we talk after lunch?”

They met out in the lobby area and the man said to Bill, “I imagine you are assuming that I am Muslim.”

Bill replied, “Well, I don’t assume anything at gatherings like this, but I did wonder.”

“Well, I’m not. I was, but not any longer. I’m a Christian.” And then he told Bill a story about a man who took a walk toward him across the room. He related that, because of the color of his skin and his name, social situations in the South could often be awkward and lonely experiences for him. He said, “I would go to these things because of my business. But I would come late, make a couple connections, and leave early because it was so awkward.

“I was at one of these functions one time. People, as usual, were talking in groups all around me as I stood against the far wall. Suddenly, a man broke away from his group and walked toward me unexpectedly. He extended his hand and introduced himself to me. We exchanged pleasantries and a little background about one another. I took the risk and told him I was Muslim. He surprised me by saying, ÔReally! I’m a Christ follower. I have to admit I don’t know anything about the Muslim faith of Islam. Would you do me a favor? Meet with me sometime and explain the basic tenets of the Islamic faith!’

“I was taken aback by this, but we did get together the next week, and he came with his questions. Then we met again and decided we kind of liked one another, I guess. After a couple three weeks of getting together I said, ÔI’ve been doing all the talking here. Why don’t you tell me what you believe?’ And so this man began to share the impact Jesus Christ has had upon his life and how he was so glad he knew Him. I began asking questions. He had some answers for me, and if he didn’t know the answers, he would go find them for me.

“One evening when I was at home, I decided I did not have an excuse to not trust Jesus. So I gave my life to him. Now I am a Christian and a leader in my church. That is how I’ve come to read your books. I have even led several of my own family members to Jesus Christ!”

Bill Hybels later was thinking about this powerful story. Could it be that sometimes leading people across the line of faith toward the God who loves them is simply a matter of just walking across the room?

Let me ask you a question: Are you willing to take a walk across the room to someone who might be far from God? A person might wonder, Why would I be so bold as to put myself out there like that? Let me give you a couple good reasons.

The first is, as a follower of Jesus Christ knows from experience, you have the single greatest gift that a person could ever receive. You have a relationship with a God who loves you through Jesus Christ, whose presence in your life has made all the difference and has made your existence so much richer. If you really believe that Ð if that is at the core of your being and your relationship with Jesus Christ is the most important thing in your life Ð then, of course, you want to make sure someone else is going to get in on that. You are going to want to do all you can to share the solution that has made all the difference in your life with people who cross your path. If you had a vaccine for curing cancer, you’d want to make sure that everybody you knew who was facing cancer had the opportunity to find out about it and take it.

When you truly believe you have an amazing gift to share, the single greatest gift a person can have Ð a personal relationship with God Ð then you have all the reason in the world for taking that walk. Now if you don’t believe that, if that’s not how you describe your relationship with God, then, of course, you will wonder, Why should I bother sharing that? But if you do believe it, and you have people in your life who lack this knowledge, you will want them to be able to enjoy what you enjoy, if you love them. Right?

The second reason: you follow the One who walked across a big room for you. Metaphorically speaking, Jesus Christ walked across the universe to get to you. Our text for today in Philippians 2 describes this walk across the room. “Though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be exploited.” Jesus left the courts of heaven, the Fellowship of the Trinity, and walked across the universe for you and for me. He stooped to be with us. He became a human being and even gave His life for us Ð while we were still His enemies, at that! He walked across the room to bring us to the Father who loves us.

Why did He do it? He took that walk “to seek and to save the lost.” Lost people matter to God Ð hurting people, lost people, sick people, helpless people, hopeless people, religious people, good people, irreligious people, people who are tangled up in destructive behaviors. Everybody matters. All were created in the image of God and need that relationship restored.

Jesus says to those of us who have experienced His grace in our lives, I want you to do what I did. Take a walk toward someone who needs a relationship with God, not because you are afraid of anything but as a grateful response for what you receive from Me. Do it out of love, not only for others, but also for Me, who first loved you. Think about how you came to faith. Isn’t it because someone took the trouble to tell you about what God had done for you through His Son, Jesus Christ?

There are your two reasons why we should be willing to walk across a room.

The next question I have for you, then, is this: Are you ready to take that walk, to give that single greatest gift to someone today?

You might respond to that question something like this: Are you kidding? I can’t do that! Do I look like Billy Graham? I’m an introvert, not an extravert. I don’t have those kinds of gifts.

Listen. We are not talking about special gifts from the Holy Spirit or being Billy Graham. We’re not talking about memorizing some magic formula to get someone to say a prayer. We’re simply talking about walking across the room and relating to someone in the name of Christ. It takes three things to make this happen.

1. It takes a willingness to walk into the zone of the unknown, to break out of the comfort circle of other Christians that we sometimes find ourselves huddling in. The guy in Bill Hybels’ story had to break out of the familiar comfort of his circle of friends into new, unfamiliar territory in order to connect with a man who was a Muslim. He was curious about him. He cared about him. He saw him as Jesus would see him Ð a person created in the name of God and in need of a relationship. Jesus had to break out of the comfort zone of heaven and enter into the unfamiliar, didn’t He?

I can tell you, as one who has walked into that zone many times, an adventure awaits. We can find great excitement in our Christian faith when we break out of our comfortable circle zone and walk into the unknown across the room.

2. Listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit! When Jesus was getting ready to leave His disciples during the ascension, He said to them, “Wait here in Jerusalem. Power from on high will come to you, and then you will be My witnesses to the ends of the earth.” Jesus didn’t leave us to walk across the room on our own. He has given us His Holy Spirit to help us.

Scripture again and again points us to the power of the Spirit and having the Spirit lead us. In Galatians 5, for instance, it tells us to walk in the Spirit. In Acts 8 we find the early Church being led by the Spirit when Philip finds an Ethiopian official riding in a chariot and reading the Old Testament book of Isaiah. The Spirit led Philip to talk to the Ethiopian, and Philip led him to Christ.

You and I can be prompted by the Spirit today as we walk in a relationship with Jesus Christ. As we study His Word, as we pray that God will use us in someone’s life, as we gather with other Christians in worship and Bible study, our antennas become more alive and we become ready to receive those promptings from the Spirit. Put yourself on call every morning when you get up and say, God, use me today. I will cooperate with the Holy Spirit. If I cross paths with someone you want me to connect with, I will take that walk. If you want me to say a good word about Jesus, I will. If you tell me this person isn’t ready to hear that yet, I will love him and serve him in Christ’s name until the opportunity does arrive. I will cooperate with the Spirit. I am on call today.

Are you willing to put yourself on call?

3. You have to just walk. You walk! You just do it. You don’t just talk about it. You take the step.

There are a couple of important things I want you to keep in mind to sustain you as you are taking your walks across the room to be a witness for Jesus.

1. Have patient, realistic expectations. You don’t always get to see that individual you are connecting with come to Christ. You might be a link in a chain of people needed to bring that person to a relationship with God through Christ. That person might be a minus ten from God, and you’ve been put into his life to perhaps bring him to a seven. Or that person may be in the middle of his search for a relationship with God, and perhaps God has called you to be the middle reliever. Every once in a while we get the privilege of being part of the closer role. But be realistic and patient as you do these walks. Evangelism often involves teamwork. The Holy Spirit might be calling you to a different role than you think you are called to be in this process. Maybe you are the starter, the middle reliever, or the closer.

2. Finally, no one bats a thousand. Remember the story Jesus told of the sower and the seed. It was meant to be an encouragement to those of us who are walking across a room. There are all kinds of soil. Some of it is too hard to receive. Some of it has too many things working against it. Yet, sometimes that good, powerful seed, falls on good soil, and you can watch it germinate. Nothing is more rewarding than to see someone draw close to Jesus, begin to follow Him, and grow in their faith. Jesus is telling us to just sow the seed; God will do the growing.

So how about it? Are you ready to walk across the room? Are you willing? Jesus Christ is counting on us. We’ll talk about this some more next week and learn how we might sharpen our skills in walking across a room. God bless you as you walk.