Worship and the Lost

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Luke 15:1-71

The Parable of the Lost Sheep

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

So he told them this parable: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

One of the biggest controversies in worship that has been debated in the last few decades has been around the concept of “seeker-sensitive” worship. The term alone sets off bells and whistles in the minds of most church leaders today, although, to be fair, the heat of that conflict has gone a bit underground in the last decade.

The original conflict grew out of the disconnect between tent meeting revivals that attracted people and brought about changed lives, but sometimes could not transfer the same spirit and passion into the regular Sunday mornings of local churches. But it was not just the folks outside of church that were drawn to these. Regular church folk are drawn to the food, fellowship, and musical performances – the entertainment value of these services as well. So are the performers. These services are often set up with names attached to draw people in. Sure you can advertise that your church is going to do a revival and that you expect God to be present and working there… but if you really want to draw a crowd, bring in a popular music group and get a well-known speaker, and everyone will come out to the show.

These kind of revivals are about coming to get something, not coming to give something. Generally, the only people who prefer normal Sunday services over those special worship events are the clean up crew, who pick up the mess left by everyone who came for their religious experience and then went back to live their life again. There are exceptions to this of course. I’ve participated in several revival services that incorporated a day or at least part of a day of community service where people came to give instead of just receive – but these are typically not perceived as “seeker-sensitive”.

It’s not just seekers that push us to ask less of church people, it is everyone. It is easier to be encouraged than challenged. It is easier to be the encourager than to be the challenger – especially if you are challenging in ways that involve supporting them with follow up and help after the service ends. In the last decade, as church attendance in many non-seeker-sensitive churches has dropped, it seems that the practical arguments to the debate have ended and we are now looking at being seeker-sensitive or closing our doors for good. The original arguments against entertainment based services and simplified gospel teaching are still there. Mature Christians still think that watered down gospel will not bring people to God or to the Church, and they may not be wrong… but the number of people outside the church, the seekers themselves, are far greater than those mature Christians inside the church. So many have taken those arguments underground for the sake of attendance, financial obligation, and just keeping the doors open.

Jesus taught that the good shepherd leaves the 99 safe sheep and goes after the one that is lost. It is this kind of philosophy of letting mature Christians fend for themselves while a church focuses its effort on the lost that some have used to justify “seeker-sensitive” worship. The problem arises from how we identify the parties in this analogy.

         For Seeker Advocates  
         - Seekers (non-believers) are the lost sheep  
         - Believers are the 99 "found" sheep  
         - The Shepherd is the Church worship leaders/organizers  

Here is my struggle with this perspective: It is too impersonal. Jesus emphasis is on the importance of the individual here. The lost are not 20 or 30 some people, it is a single sheep. The Shepherd is not a nameless/faceless leadership, it is one leader. The only corporate group is the 99, and even they are counted individually. He did not just say “the rest of the sheep”. Every individual counts.

I think a more literal and accurate application of this parable to worship would be to simply postpone worship until everyone had been personally invited. We won’t start church until we knock on every door in our neighborhood and make sure everyone is 1.) safe and 2.) personally invited to come to worship Jesus with us. I’m not talking about hanging posters or dropping fliers in mailboxes. The good shepherd did not just go post lost sheep posters around the towns. I mean person to person checking in and inviting. We would would hold off the service even starting until we had done that if we truly believed that their needs for God were even equal to our own, let alone more important, as Jesus teaches in this parable.

That would be kinda crazy and impractical, depending on your community, and it certainly would overturn the tables of expectations and leadership in most congregations. It is a practical exaggeration, just as the parable itself is. Yet it is the absurdity of it on a practical level that brings to light the true point Jesus is trying to make. In the absurdity of leaving 99 for 1, I believe, lies our true relationship and purpose with the lost sheep of our neighborhoods. The question is not about what we do with them once they come to church (although those details are certainly important). The question we have not been asking for some 30 years, that we need to be asking is: How are we reaching the lost sheep of our communities before they come to church?

Ezekiel 34:1-10

Israel’s False Shepherds

The word of the Lord came to me: Mortal, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel: prophesy, and say to them—to the shepherds: Thus says the Lord God: Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd; and scattered, they became food for all the wild animals. My sheep were scattered, they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill; my sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with no one to search or seek for them.

Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: As I live, says the Lord God, because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild animals, since there was no shepherd; and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep; therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: Thus says the Lord God, I am against the shepherds; and I will demand my sheep at their hand, and put a stop to their feeding the sheep; no longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, so that they may not be food for them.

We, the Church, (meaning all those who have chosen to follow Jesus, making disciples in His name) are called to be good shepherds, but we have turned down the task. It has become to hard for us to try to bring salvation to people and then bring them to church. It is more convenient to my time to let the church building, the church programs, the church staff,… maybe even just God Himself go after those lost sheep. Yes, Jesus, I know You gave me the commission, the command to go out into all the world, look for Your lost sheep, and take the salvation I received from You and share it with them. But if I’m honest, sometimes I just don’t want to. I would rather just keep You to myself.

How does your own personal worship affect the lost in your community?

Who are the lost sheep that God has brought to your attention?


  1. (Mt 18:10–14)

Living Water

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Living Water

John 4:5-42

“So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.

A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” They left the city and were on their way to him.

Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”

Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.” ”

 

Keeping Your Priorities Straight While Changing the World – The Main Thing

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Upon his return from the wilderness, and after John was arrested, Jesus began preaching this message:

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15, ESV)

This is the announcement. This is what the Jews had been waiting for. This is the gospel.

The message Jesus preached was set in two functional parts: a announcement and an invitation. The pronouncement of Jesus here in Mark is about as basic as you can make it. The time is fulfilled. One of the things that aided the authority of Jesus was the fact that He did not enter into our world of politics as a detached or entirely original entity. He did not just pop up out of nowhere.

Matthew and Luke both make a great significance of his birth 30 years earlier, and John’s gospel takes his origin back to the very creation of the world. In this way, Jesus was not presenting something new, but something very old. Curiously, some of the criticism He faced was from those who did not believe His person, and thereby His message predates the thirty year lifespan of His body. So, prior to making any request, Jesus first announces that He is not only part of a long line of people involved in God’s work in our world… He declares that the timeline has reached fulfillment in Him.

Not only has the timeline reached a culmination point, but the physical presence of God’s Kingdom has arrived. We could not reach heaven, so heaven came down to us. Jesus describes it’s location as being “at hand” which means has come near. The ‘hand’ part of that translation makes me think that the Kingdom is something you can reach out and grab. While it may be true that there are handles that we can take ahold of ourselves, I think a better way of thinking may be that the Kingdom has come within diving distance – so jump in with both feet! You won’t be able to pull it around, but it will move you from the place your life is now to the new eternal life God has prepared for you. This is the announcement of the Kingdom of God.

Next comes the invitation. You’ve heard about the Kingdom… Here is how to get there. Repent and believe the gospel.

Repenting almost always involves turning around. Sometimes it literally means doing a 180 and facing the very things from which we run. Is there something you are continually avoiding that you suspect should be reconciled? You won’t get far into the Kingdom unless you face it. Other times it means turning just a few degrees to the left or right. When trying to put together a wooden shelf with screws, if they require a flathead standard screwdriver and I am holding a Phillips screwdriver, repenting does not mean throwing down the screwdriver and getting a hammer to pound the screws in. It means getting the right screwdriver for the job. If we are constantly trying to use the wrong tool for the job, simply because we like the tool or feel more comfortable with it, we will not get far in the Kingdom. Repentance always means turning, always means change, and always, always means submitting to God’s authority for our life instead of living by our own standards and preferences.

Then Jesus asks us to believe. This is where I think this is more than reaching out and grabbing. True belief involves investment. It involves putting your weight upon God’s promises and trusting that God will hold you up. It’s not knowledge or feeling – belief is an action. There will always be some parts of our lives that will remain invisible to all but God and ourselves, but if your ‘belief’ is entirely invisible, I would question how valuable and how real it is. If someone tells me they love their family, but I never meet them, they never show me pictures of them, and they never tell me stories about their life as a family…it makes me doubt the truth of their claim. If we believe the gospel and are part of God’s kingdom, there should be some kind of evidence of that in our lives that others witness. We are called to be witnesses of God, but those around us should be witnesses of our love for God and God’s love for us.

This is the gospel. This is the main thing. It was not the only thing. It was the first piece that needed to be set before any other ministry would be done. The teaching, healing, deliverances, and forgiveness extended all grew out of this first piece. All of those ministries and all of our ministries find their root in this gospel announcement and invitation when Jesus came to tell us the Kingdom had arrived and there was a place for us if we were willing to turn and join Him.