Have you ever experienced rejection because you chose to do what’s right?
When I was seventeen, I was not a Christian, and in public high school, the friends that I hung out with in my pre-Christian days had definite ideas about how to have fun. It usually involved, not always, but sometimes, skipping classes and drinking, or smoking a certain kind of non-commercially obtained leaves. And you have to understand that I didn’t grow up in a Christian home that had well-reasoned values against those things.
So yes, I did inhale. And drink. And occasionally skip classes. And I went to parties where those things were done. And I think I shocked Pastor Gettys by admitting to such. But after I became a Christian, I had no desire for those kinds of things. My thirst was for something far more satisfying.
And I distinctly remember the effect this had on my former friends. My transformation into wanting to live God’s way and do what was right seemed totally insane to them. They told me I was stupid or crazy for not having fun like they were and for missing out on things because I kept the Sabbath. To them, I was out of my mind. But I was lost for Jesus’ sake.
Just thinking of that reminds me of something Jesus said. I invite you to open your Bibles to Matthew 16. Jesus had just told the disciples that he was going to suffer and die and then be raised. And as you recall, Peter did not like the sound of that, so he rebuked Jesus, to which Jesus then returned His own rebuke to Peter about Peter not caring for God’s things and more for the things of man.
I’d like you to especially notice verses 24 through 26. Matthew 16, verses 24 and onward. “Then Jesus told His disciples, ‘If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life?’”
Let’s first notice that Jesus is using the word “life” in two completely different ways. When Jesus says, “whoever would save his life will lose it,” He’s speaking of life from the standpoint of enjoying earthly, material benefit. In that sense, saving one’s life means, among other things, trying to gain the acceptance and approval of society and peers, but not caring about spiritual concerns. The person who is trying to save his or her life in that way, Jesus tells us, is selfishly choosing short-term benefits in exchange for losing life eternally. Ultimately, it means making choices to bring glory to oneself, not to God.
But, when Jesus said, “whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it,” He’s emphasizing life with a very different set of values. “Saving one’s life” in that context means valuing spirituality and eternal life, oneness and harmony with God and trust in God. Trust enough to listen to God. Losing one’s life in order to save it in that sense is all about accepting Jesus, even if it means not benefiting from the acceptance and approval of others, and thus losing out, perhaps, on some earthly-wise advantages.
But now I’d like to apply the meaning of this even more broadly. When it comes to what we should be about as Christians and outreach, wouldn’t it all boil down to one thing? Wouldn’t the bottom line be this? Selfishness versus unselfishness? Wouldn’t you say so?
In the world’s perspective, it looks like we’re nuts, right? Like we’ve lost our way in the world to be focusing on God’s agenda and not on our own? Just like my old “friends” thought I was stupid or nuts for not having fun like they did. And yet, even though we are all professing Christians, aren’t we still challenged or tempted to focus only on our own personal agendas?
For example, to achieve “success”, however we define it, in the eyes of those around us? To have a nicer home, a newer car? To have stylish clothing? Or perhaps to look like the perfect person or the perfect family? Can we be so focused on our own needs — trying to gain our own success — but at the same time neglect God’s agenda, particularly God’s unselfish desire to help other people?
We all need balance, but do we focus so much on our own personal agenda, that we never reach out to someone beyond our own family, our own lives? Can we be so engrossed in our own priorities, our own do-it-yourself approaches to meeting many of our own legitimate needs that we are afraid or unwilling to participate in God’s active love for other people?
That’s what I love about our scripture reading today, the text in Matthew 6. “For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” I believe Jesus spoke those words because He knows that so often we believe that we can take better care of ourselves than even God can. Hasn’t it been that way ever since the garden of Eden? That we think we have the best ideas on how to meet our needs, how to reach our goals? Ultimately, we have to ask ourselves, “Who am I going to trust? Myself or God? “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” That is the wonderful assurance that we need to remind us that we can actually focus on God’s principles first. And why? Because we can trust Him to be the kind of God who will look after us and our needs. It’s about confidence in Who God is.
So again the question, “Who am I going to trust? God? Anybody else? Myself?” Who’s it going to be?
Reaching out to people in some kind of outreach activity and letting go of our own selfish desires and goals—isn’t that essentially getting lost for Jesus’ sake? Isn’t that choosing to make Jesus first and focusing on God’s desires, not our own? Wouldn’t that include trying to make a difference in someone else’s life? Do we really make a difference in someone’s life?
I’ve invited a few of the members of our current Share Him outreach teams as well as our church’s Women’s Ministries leader, to come to the pulpit and share with us some of their experiences of being lost for Jesus.
Harold Peters is the leader of the Share Him group that we call GLOVE, which stands for God’s Love. Harold is standing in for June Siler who is a member of the GLOVE group. So Harold, we know June’s been involved even before Share Him got organized in our church, ever since the Mark Finley crusade in Chattanooga. June met a neighbor of hers that she has been witnessing to. Tell us about that neighbor and her experience in witnessing.
[Harold Peters] Thank you Paul. You mentioned, that we call ourselves The Glove. Our motto is to be a glove on God’s hand living out God's love. June is doing a great job of that. We meet every two weeks to pray together and to encourage one another and to formulate plans for outreach. June had already been involved in outreach and she had invited some of her neighbors to go to the 2006 evangelistic crusade in Chattanooga. And then shortly after that was over the Share Him groups began, and her immediate concern was, “How do I follow up with my neighbors?” She decided to invited her neighbors to her home and you led out in studies on the Gospel of John there in her home. That was the year 2007 and then in 2008 when Mark Finley had his meetings on TV I recorded all of those evangelistic meetings and June took those CDs and used them to share the story of God's love with her neighbors again. Particularly, the neighbor who was most impacted by this lives right next door to June. His name is Manuel and he attended those meetings in Chattanooga and he attended many of the studies on the Gospel of John. He attended the meetings by Mark Finley, the Discovers 08. When he was finished with that, then June shared with him Bible Readings for the Home and The Great Controversy. Manuel was already a devout student of the Bible. Liked to read the Bible. Liked to study the Bible and had lots of questions, but had a lot of information about the Bible as well. So then June provided Manuel with five Ken Cox DVDs on Daniel and the four beasts, the little horn and then five DVDs on Revelation, the Mark of the beast. And now she's looking to what she's going to do this winter. She has ordered a satellite system so that Manuel can watch Hope TV, 3ABN and LLBN through the winter and also she has arranged for another member of our group, Ron Roth, to hold Bible studies in her home and Manuel has already consented to attend those Bible studies. One thing that I would like to underscore, as we look at what June has been doing, is the term that Bob Folkenberg used when he introduced Share Him to this church. He said, “We’re not talking about a one-time event. We’re talking about evangeliving.” Continuously living the Gospel so that our lives are continually touching the lives of others and influencing them. And this is what June has been doing. We praise the Lord for the way that Manuel has been responding to God's love.
[Pastor Carlson] Thank you Harold for sharing that. Maybe you would be willing to pray for Manuel as he processes the truth and makes decisions on that.
Ok, David Turner is also here and he is a member of the D.O.C. group. Stands for Disciples Of Christ Share Him group and the D.O.C. group has kind of adopted a certain area of Chattanooga. Dave, where is that and what kind of events has the group been planning and doing?
[David Turner] Currently where we’re working is in the East Lake area of Chattanooga. The East Lake area lies on both sides of Interstate 24 going over the ridge cut into Chattanooga and East Lake butts up against Missionary Ridge. So it's on both sides of the interstate. Our daughter Melissa had worked for the Chattanooga Magazine as assistant editor there and then she went to work for the city of Chattanooga. Became very much aware of all kinds of nonprofits, various churches, various denominations reaching out to uplift the people in Chattanooga, so she introduced us to the people at the St. Andrews Center and the Salvation Army. When we went to the St. Andrews Center we were introduced to Mike Feeley, the Methodist minister there who has 37 different outreach programs for Chattanooga and he said, “Well, where are you from?” We said, “Well, we’re from the McDonald Road Seventh-day Adventist church.” “Oh,” he said, “Great! We have Portuguese Seventh-day Adventists who meet in our church every Sabbath morning. We have a group of students from Southern that teach Spanish every afternoon. Teaching Spanish children how to speak English.” He just opened up his church to us. He said, “What do you need and when do you want to do it?” and so that was our first situation. We had an evangelistic meeting in that church and Tom McDonald, John Davis, Tim and Kathy Cook preached. Later when I met Mike Feeley down at the Salvation Army, he said, “You know, my study is right up against the chapel. I was listening to all those sermons.” He said, “Your laypeople did a great job,” and they did a great job so he heard our Advent message there. But after that we went down to the Salvation Army. Began to partner with them. Partnering was kind of foreign to us, but the Salvation Army had a program going there and so we went door to door through that neighborhood and we passed out their brochures on their humanitarian social work and we passed out our Christian literature. So we sort of piggybacked. And you were with us with Becky there, going door-to-door in Chattanooga and then our group got together. John Davis took over leadership because Tom was going to night school, and so he is the leader of our group now, but in talking it over we said, “Let's go down into Chattanooga. We've always kind of worked out here around Collegedale. Let's get into Chattanooga and try to develop some friendship evangelism.” And so the first event we had there was a health fair, because we have a lot of health professionals in our church and some in our group. That came off really well. We got acquainted with Major English who heads up the Salvation Army. After that we had several cooking schools which the people really appreciated. Our folks did a really good job at that. Just recently, October 10 or 11, we had a health fair. You were there with Becky helping and several people out here were there helping. It was very well received. Our people did a really professional job. So those are the kinds of things we've been doing.
[Pastor Carlson] What are the impressions you've gained in interacting with people there and how has it influenced you?
[David] It’s kind of a humbling experience, you know. It's not about us going down with all the know-how and from this wealthy area down to the inner city. We don't get down with that attitude because really we all need the forgiving grace of God everyday in our lives. Humanity’s in the same boat and God is leading us where He wants to take us as we give our hearts to Him. At this last health fair particularly, a young lady came up to our desk and she was probably 17 or 18 years of age. A high school student. I don't know if somebody tried to slash her throat with a knife or what, but she had a cut right from her collarbone right across her chest about 4 inches long, and then it disappeared, I don’t know where it ended up, but it was an ugly gash across her chest. I thought, “Here’s this girl, she has really been in a hard experience.” I said, “What are you doing?” She said, “I'm going to high school and I'm going to graduate.” I said, “Good for you girl. What are you going to do next?” “I'm going to go to Austin Peay State University, and I'm going to take business. My friends are all dropping out of school, but not me.” And I said, “Good for you.” What an inspiration. Living in the inner-city, somebody's tried to cut her, she was going to do something with her life and you feel like if we can just help a little bit of encouragement. We went to a Christmas party. When you go down over the ridge cut, there's that big public housing area that has the tile roofs when you go down into Chattanooga. There’s shootings at night. It's a tough place. One day we were walking through there. We canvassed every home in there and a young lady said, “Are you Christians?” We said, “Yes, we’re from the Seventh-day Adventist church.” Well right in the middle of this public housing area, people are sitting on their back stoops drinking out of brown paper bags. Things going on that we’re not going to mention here, but anyway, she said, “You know, this place is a very difficult place to live, and it's so hard.” She said, “Would you mind praying for us?” And so right in the middle of the public housing area, all these people kind of watching us, we just bowed our heads and asked God's blessing on her and she said, “I'm so thankful. You know my mom goes to the Seventh-day Adventist church.” And she was so grateful. So it’s these kind of things. But at Christmas time our group took Christmas presents down to the recreation center behind the public housing area. East Lake public housing area. We brought Christmas presents and we met Jessica Lawrence. She describes herself. She said, “I'm just an old black country woman from Alabama.” That's how she introduced herself to me. Well this lady who's in her 70s, she has Brenda Wilson and Doris Smith who work with her. I don't know if any of them graduated from high school. I don't know. Doesn't really matter at this point in time, but they're all older people, except for Doris, middle-aged person, but after school is out in the summer they run a day camp for the children to get them out of that public housing area, to uplift their reading and math skills. Eight hours a day these people have this program for them. They feed them a hot meal at lunch and I thought, “These people, eight hours every day.” She takes money out of her food stamps when the donations don't come in and buys food for the children so they can have a hot meal every day. So this summer, we took fresh vegetables down to them from time to time so they’d have fresh stuff. Now they have an after school program from 3:30 to 5:30 every day of the week. Volunteers in there teaching computer and math skills. I brought some vegetables down and Doris Smith, a big strapping black lady, I dropped the vegetables on the counter and she threw her arms around me and gave me hug. I thought it was a wrestler giving me a hug. She said, “God bless you.” They’re grateful for the help we bring to them, but you know, it's really spoken to my heart. There's people out there doing good things. It challenges us. Let's be the hands and feet of Jesus.
[Pastor Carlson] Amen. It sounds like the inspiration has gone both ways.
Gloria Williams and Marilyn Schneller are both here representing the Harvesters Share Him group which is currently laying plans to start a Bible study group, but Gloria and Marilyn, tell us about your experience of trying to make a difference in someone’s life?
[Gloria Williams] Well, I have a dear friend that had to go to the Consulate nursing home located on Standifer Gap Road next to the Seventh-day Adventist church school. As I visited her, I noticed that on Sabbath they didn't have anything going for the people there. I've been to Life Care, and they always had something going for the people, but not there. So as I thought about it I thought, “Well maybe this is something I should bring before the Harvesters group.” I brought it before them, and of course, they thought, “Well, you should do it.” Well that was not what I was expecting. But I did decide, “I know I can do it with God's leading and help.” So after the meeting, Marilyn was an inspiration. She came to me and said, “I'll lead out if you need me.” And I also have Lucy Anderson to play the piano. So that was just an answer to prayer right there and I could see that God was going to take care of us. My next-door neighbor, Janice Oliver, they sing at nursing homes with Bill Hulsey’s group and Janice is always ready to help out. Warren takes care of the microphone, and we've had others to come. We've had Donna Shurley and the Crosby's have been there. Linda Thompson. Marie McPherson has an accordion she plays. Now Janice also has some friends that play with them that are not Seventh-day Adventists, and they come and this one man, he plays his guitar and harmonica at the same time. Then we had one man to come with his dog and his dog was going to sing with him but the dog didn't cooperate. But the patients enjoyed the dog being there, regardless. Today we’re having Don West. Every second Sabbath of the month we go to the nursing home and today Don West is going to be there. And when Lucy can’t play the piano, when we ask Lorraine Newman, she is willing and that’s such a blessing because when you need a piano player it's nice when someone says ‘yes’.
[Marilyn Schneller] Also, Jedell and Cindy Butoy have come and sung and the people really love it when kids come also. We always try to sing at the end, Jesus Loves Me and you should see those people. They just sing out and it's a blessing to see that we've touched their hearts for Jesus.
[Gloria] And when we're through, we visit with them and put our arms of love about them and let them know that somebody cares and we’re there to bring them some joy and show them Jesus, because without Him we are nothing.
[Pastor Carlson] Thank you Gloria and Marilyn. Nick Van Zyl is also here and he is a member of The Reapers Share Him group and is very committed to the Share Him vision. Nick, you’ve told me about a Bible study group that you’ve been involved with. Tell us about that group and how it got started and what’s exciting for you to see happening.
[Nick Van Zyl] I believe God has divine appointments for us every day. The places we find ourselves in, we have the opportunity to touch people's lives. We don't have enough time this morning, but I know for a fact that God has got me in a dental practice here in Chattanooga for a specific reason. One afternoon, a friend of mine, Heath Perez, called me and said, “I've got a patient that I've been speaking with and they're asking me questions I can't answer. Will you help me?” I said, “Sure. Let's start a Bible study on Friday evenings,” and so we started studying with this patient. Her name is Dee Powderly, and we at first used some David Asscherick DVDs and they’re very good, but we felt like it was a little impersonal and so we started doing Bible marking on difficult subjects. Questions that Dee had, and she has been attending church here regularly for several months and praise the Lord, in spite of Heath and I she wants to be baptized. So, I believe, we don't see what happens to the people we touch. Not every time, and I think we’re there to sow the seeds and God will make the conviction, so if we do our part, He’ll be faithful to do His.
[Pastor Carlson] Thank you Nick. It’s exciting to be involved. It makes a difference, not only in someone else’s life, but ours as well. Share Him is one of the ways to be involved. Cheryl Baker, our Women's Ministries leader, is here to tell us about outreach in another way. Now Sheryl, I’ve heard about this project, Room at the Inn, that you’re involved with. Tell us about that and the impact that you’ve seen that has in other people’s lives.
[Cheryl Baker] Chattanooga Room in the Inn is a shelter for homeless women and children. Now it's not a temporary shelter, but it's a whole program where they try to give women the skills necessary to become self-sufficient and live on their own and be productive. Our first association with Room in the Inn came from a suggestion from Dave Turner that this was one of the projects downtown where food was needed and so two years ago we started providing meals once a month for the residents there at Room in the Inn. Last year, they asked us if Pam Lewis and I would start leading Bible studies for them on a temporary basis to fill in as substitute teachers, and we did this. Then this last March they asked if Pam and I would become their permanent Bible study teachers, and we were very pleased to do this. There are real success stories that we see. There are times that we don't have such a vision of great success. There's one young lady, Monique. When we first met her a year ago, she came into the program with a real bad attitude. She didn't get along with the staff. She didn’t get along with the other residents. She was constantly yelling at her young son, and during Bible studies she would just get up and leave sometimes and we really didn't know if we were reaching this woman in any way at all or if this program was going to help her. Then during the year we've seen great changes in Monique. One of the things she began doing was writing poetry to express what had happened to her in her past and to tell about things that were happening to her on a daily basis and things that she wanted to see happen in her future. One of the last weeks she read one of her poems for us and it was titled, Today, I Murdered My Best Friend. I have to admit that Pam and I got a little nervous about this and we were kind of looking at each other like, “Oh, oh, what do we do now?” As she began reading the poem and talking about this in the poem, she explained why she had to murder her best friend, and the reason was because her best friend was her old life, and it kept pulling her back and kept preventing her from moving forward and being able to turn daily to Jesus. This young lady has now been working two jobs for a matter of months, and saving money and on December first she and her son are moving into a home of their own. We have been very blessed to see this. There are several other women that we've seen this kind of transformation in, but we don't always get to see that. Some of the women come and go in a matter of weeks and we don't know the whole story. We don't know how their story ends. We get real discouraged sometimes and wonder if it's really making a difference. Then we'll have one of them come up to us and say, “I can’t stay here, but I want you to know how much these Bible stories and Bible studies have meant to me.” And so Pam and I try to remember when we get discouraged, the verse in Isaiah 55:11 that says “the word of the Lord will not return empty.” We feel very privileged that we've had the opportunity to work with these women and share God's Word even in any little way.
[Pastor Carlson] Now there are some other ways of outreach that Women’s Ministries is involved with, as well. Tell us briefly what those are about.
[Cheryl] We have several different outreach projects for community projects. You know that we send packages and Bibles and books to soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq. We also make lap robes for hospice patients, and we have a new program that we’re starting that the ladies are helping with and it's growing, called Bags of Love. What we do is the ladies get together one Monday a month and they make big fabric bags and homemade quilts to put in these bags along with toiletries, clothing, toys; and these bags are given to children that are taken from their homes and being put into the foster system and we’re working with five different counties, with the Children's Protective Services of five different counties, and I've asked Rose if she would hold up one of the quilts that our ladies have made that will go in these bags.
[Pastor Carlson] Thank you Cheryl, and thank you to all of these folks who have shared their experience of being involved to make a difference for somebody.
Have you thought, has God perhaps put a thought in your mind leading you to be more involved than you have been or then you are? Could God be speaking to you to say, “Yes. I want to be a part of an outreach ministry team.” Or “I want to be a part of the Women's Ministries team to do something different.” Could God be speaking to you right now? If so, I encourage you to sign up. Make your willingness known. Be a part of something. That's what's great about the outreach teams. You're not by yourself. You're with someone else. So I'd like to ask you to consider joining one of our outreach teams, and you can sign up on the tables in the foyer after you leave the service.
You see, the difference that you might make in someone else's life, that might not be the only difference that is made, but the difference may be in your life as well. Jesus said, “Whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” I want to “get lost” for Jesus’ sake. How about you? I encourage you to sign up and be involved.
Let’s sing our closing song, Lift High The Cross.
Our gracious Father. May Your face shine upon us and Your love be seen in us and demonstrated by our actions. Go with us and may we proclaim and lift high the love of the cross. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Hymn of Praise: #560, Let All Things Now Living Scripture: Mathew 6:31-33 Hymn of Response: #362, Lift High the Cross
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McDonald Road Sermon transcribed by Steve Foster 12/14/09