Small Things Done with Great Love Still Change the World
Acts 17:6 [NKJV] tells us why. It says, “These who have turned the world upside down have come here too.” I like the way the NIV says it even more. “These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here.” Jesus, you see, was a trouble maker. When the hawks were clamoring for war against Rome, Jesus talked about turning the other cheek. When the church leaders created 613 rules to keep Sabbath holy, the Lord of the Sabbath went out of his way to break nearly every one of them. And when prostitutes and tax collectors decided to throw Him a party, He actually went. Not worried if Gabriel would follow Him in there or not. He was walking and talking. Eating and drinking. Praying and partying. Healing and blessing. Just showing up. Offering personal invitations. Simply being, what I like to call, normal.
It reminds me of a story I read recently. In it, there’s a group of church people who basically take potluck to the park each week so they can feed the homeless. When they started, the police arrived and said they couldn’t feed the homeless without a permit. They replied, “We’re not feeding the homeless. We’re eating with them. We invited them to our picnic.” Which I think is hilarious. Because Jesus WAS homeless right? He said in Luke 9:58 [NIV] says, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” So here you’ve got THE homeless guy modeling for His 21st century followers how to minister TO homeless guys and others rejected by society by eating with them taking advantage of every ordinary thing they were going to do anyway and because they actually did—they get in trouble. Who knew peanut butter and jelly could be so controversial?
It’s funny, if you keep reading the New Testament, the same kinds of things kept happening in the book of Acts to those following in Jesus’ footsteps. It seemed that everywhere the Gospel was shared, it either started a riot or a revival. Allan Wolfson showed me that the very first time we met. And not just in Ephesus. Literally everywhere they went! It seems like Paul was constantly getting beat up and thrown out of cities left for dead by mobs of people. On the other hand, Acts 2:46–47 [NIV] also testifies to the revival part. It says, “46Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
We are all ministers
I remember a couple years ago when God put this overwhelming desire in my heart to invite my neighbor Ron across the street to study the Bible with me. I’d lived across the street from him for 5 years. We’d talk about lawn care. Television. Movies. The kids. He started picking up my mail for me when I was gone. Taking my dog for walks. Bringing me fresh bread. An extra cantaloupe on sale. And STILL I missed all those cues from God. Finally, one day, my neighbor straight out asked me what I thought about Sylvia Brown and I’m not making this up—“the state of the dead.” And I’m thinking, seriously God? You’re even going to give him the right Adventist lingo to use? I thought Matthew 10:19, where you promised to give us the words to say, only applied to Christians being dragged before kings and monarchs! So I butchered some answer about the state of the dead I’d given only days before when my son asked me if there really are more good angels than bad and if the good angels really are stronger.Then I took a deep breath, smiled, and asked him: “Would you mind sharpening my mind?” He asked me what I meant. And I proceeded to tell him that the Bible says in Proverbs 27:17 that “Iron sharpens iron.” Which is true. But something else iron does I’ve noticed is if you leave it out in the rain, it rusts. You should’ve seen my rusty hammer the week after I tried dog proofing my back yard in Canton. What a nightmare. I am so mechanically impaired. Anyway, so I told Ron that I thought he asked good questions and that he could probably help me understand the Bible better and draw closer to Jesus because his perspective is so different than mine and that maybe I could do the same for him as iron sharpens iron so we don’t rust. He accepted my invitation. We started studying the Bible using some pre printed Daniel study guides and nearly a year ago he was baptized. All because I finally tried practicing what I preach.
My wife Jackie’s approach was a lot less subtle. During one of her mom’s day out lunches, she literally blurted the following to a handful of other mothers: “I want to share my faith with you guys! Would you all come to my house next Monday night and study the Bible with me? Mike gave me some great study guides on the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation.” And you know what? They all said yes! One of them even said, “I was hoping you would ask! I always wondered what you believe and why you always go to church on Saturday.” So then we started studying with these 3 moms and when one friend’s husband heard I sat in on the study too—he joined in. All because Jackie was normal with them. And straight out asked them if they would all come over and study the prophecies of the Bible with us.Jesus treated every day as outreach
Which reminded me: Jesus treated every day, every conversation, every question asked, and every ordinary thing He said or did as outreach. And when His followers finally left the upper room and followed His example, THAT’s when the world turned upside down—or more accurately, right side up. But before it did, I think it’s interesting that Jesus didn’t wander around scaring people into the Kingdom with car sized hail and plagues. Have you ever seen pictures of those gloom and doom guys walking around Times Square with those placards on their front and back announcing Armageddon and the end of the world? Wouldn’t it be cool if we did the same thing on the campus of the University of Toledo but the placards read “The Kingdom of God is within!” That’s the kind of thing Jesus actually did! Luke 17:20 [NIV] says, “20Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied,‘The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, 21nor will people say, here it is, or there it is, because the kingdom of God is within you.”
No wonder Jesus and His followers treated every day as outreach! Because they understood that the Kingdom of God is not in heaven. It’s on earth. And it begins now! That’s why I love this T-shirt that says, “The church has left the building.” In Exodus 25:8 [NIV], God said, “8Have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them.” Which apparently worked well for a while. But hundreds of years later Jesus showed up and said in Matthew 18:20 [NIV], “20For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” Which means the sanctuary, the dwelling place of God, has moved. It’s not in a building anymore. It’s in our hearts. And since Jesus promised never to leave us nor forsake us, we take the sanctuary with us wherever we go! Even to the movies. The bowling allies. The bars. The parties. All the places I was told growing up Jesus’ angels never tread.
But why did Jesus go to parties and many other curious places full of tax collectors and prostitutes and drunkards and gluttons and thieves? It’s not a trick question. Certainly He wasn’t there to endorse everything happening inside! And while that’s true, He obviously didn’t go to church to endorse everything happening in there either! Because when He got up to preach in Luke 4:16, He rebuked them from Isaiah. Same type of thing with Paul. Who wrote letters to the churches in the New Testament rebuking them for quarreling and gossiping and you name it. Same thing with John. Who conveyed to Laodicea in Revelation 3:16 that God would rather they were either hot or cold. Anything except lukewarm. So if we’re not treating every day as outreach, because we’re too afraid of endorsing the wrong thing, or even worse, because we’re too worried about our reputations, maybe we should all stop going to church too. Because there’s more ink in the pages of the Bible devoted to righting the wrongs of church members than those outside it. Jesus prayed in John 17:15 [NIV], “15My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.” 1 John 4:4 says, “Greater is He that is in me than he that is in the world.” Do we really believe that or is it just a bumper sticker?
Where are God's missing children?
Did you know that the median age of an American is 36 while the median age of an Adventist American is 58? Did you know there are 2 million former Adventists in North America? That for every one of us sitting here, there are 5 more out there? We’ve got to start caring about being in relationship with all of God’s missing children than about being right. Unity is not uniformity. We’ll talk more about that soon.But real quickly, what would that look like? What kind of ordinary things can we do to reach out to the children God misses most? Here’s just a partial list of things that can turn any ordinary day into a mission trip. Buying groceries. Smiling at the cashier. Tutoring after school. Driving old people to their doctor’s appointments. Inviting the mom’s in your neighborhood over for lunch. Babysitting for free. Taking your neighbor to a football game. Joining his bowling league. Going to the gas station. But only if you pay inside. It doesn’t count if you pay at the pump. Jesus didn’t die to save rusty machines that never have enough paper in them to give you a receipt anyway so you might as well go inside and talk to somebody live! Working out at the Y instead of your basement. All of that is outreach.
I know this is true because I met my workout buddy Ken at the Y. It’s not just semantics. Like why do we park in the driveway but drive on the parkway. Psalm 24:1 [NIV] says, “1The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, and all who live in it.”
That’s why my brother–in–law took a group of people to Daytona Beach for Spring Break and cooked pancakes for all the hung over college kids each morning. He didn’t lecture them. He simply hands out connection cards and the ugliest green t-shirts I’ve ever seen that say “Jesus loves pancakes” with a quote from John 6 equating pancakes with the bread of life. And because he does, there’s a line way down the beach making those T-shirts more popular than many of the other vendors combined. Others go to Peru or Venezuela to build a building. Which is fine. I’m not saying mission trips outside your zip code are bad. I’m just saying we need a new word for what Jesus really did for most of His time on earth. Because from what I can tell, Jesus didn’t save up His denarii to go to Athens. And He didn’t stay home writing checks for public evangelism. What He did was so much simpler. And normal. And ordinary. And cost efficient.
A few years ago, the conference sent some pastor friends and me on a mission trip. We traveled to Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Laos. In some of the most remote villages outside the Killing Fields of the former Khmer Roughe, I was the first white person many of these Cambodians had ever seen! Can you imagine? What a shock it had to be for them! Judging from their initial reactions, you can see from the screen that I probably scared some of them half to death towering over them like Casper the friendly ghost. I tried to lessen the shock by handing out to all the kids individually wrapped Twizzlers I hauled all the way over there from Sam’s Club. And Twizzlers, by the way, are always well received. Even in America. I keep a bucket in the car and hand them out with Connection Cards telling people “Jesus Makes Mouths Happy.”
Jesus can grow His Kingdom without our help
In Cambodia, maybe they already are. Because many Adventist churches there meet on what amounts to a really large front porch on stilts in the middle of a rice paddy. The pastor and family live in the back of the porch under the roof. But most of the structure is devoted to a really big porch! They do that so they can say that church is really just a house. So the government will leave them alone. But every Sabbath and many weekdays, the porch is full of people. And the Adventist church is growing in Cambodia, house by house, porch by porch, because of the ordinary things they do on them. Things and like walking and talking. Eating and drinking. Praying and partying. Healing and blessing. Just showing up. Offering personal invitations.They do that in Cambodia because they don’t have millions of dollars to spend on public evangelism. Most of them don’t even have shoes. They do it that way because they cannot rely on expensive satellites circling the globe to do their job for them. Most of them are grateful for a roof over their heads. They do it that way because they don’t have the latest video clips, praise music, and podcasts. They obviously don’t need them. But what shocked me, was the growing realization, that we might not either! If we would all, whatever our age, simply start treating every day, every conversation, every question asked, every ordinary thing we do and say as outreach.
What my Cambodian brothers and sisters in Christ taught me is to stop whining about not having enough evangelism money to do stuff [although Dr. Marsa, Chairman of our Finance Committee, is already aware that Christ hasn’t quite given me that victory yet!] But seriously, the Kingdom is not about money. And never has been. It’s about choosing, whatever your age, to treat every ordinary thing we do or say as outreach and personally inviting others to follow Jesus. Which we’ll talk more about next week because “Big Things [like public evangelism] Done With Great Love Still Change the World” too. Faith based public evangelism still works.
Blogs and podcasts and satellites and praise music are wonderful tools that can help reach God’s missing children and we’re gonna use them as best we can here in North America. But I’m convinced if Steve Jobs and Bill Gates and every single one of their toys disappeared tomorrow, Revelation 18:1 will still one day occur. Why? Because ordinary outreach is a heaven thing, not a Mac thing. Revelation 18:1 [NIV] proclaims, “1After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven. He had great authority, and the earth was illuminated by his splendor.”
Bottom line: Many years ago, the earth was illuminated by the splendor of Jesus. The world was turned upside down. And if the small things He and His followers did with great love changed the world back then, I believe they will change it again. Don’t you? Jesus told Thomas in John 20:29 [NIV], “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”So here’s the icing on the cake church. Simply taking Jesus and His sanctuary to God’s missing children wherever they are in very ordinary but personal ways not only ignites revival in the church and grows the kingdom of God, it also makes those of you doing it happy. Why? Because you can actually do it! My daughter Lydia is 4 years old and does better than me at giving out Kindness 2 Go bags. She gave one to every neighbor on our street in Canton. Jesus taught us in the Sermon on the Mount that ‘happy’ is another way to understand the word ‘blessed.’ So happy are those who have not seen and yet have believed. Jesus said the prophets of old would have traded places with any of us in a heartbeat! Matthew 13:17 [NIV] says, “17For I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.” John 20:30 [NIV] adds these words, “30Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.”
If that’s true, I see no reason to believe why He’s not gonna do many other miraculous things in the presence of these 21 st century disciples, gathered in this room, which have yet to even be recorded. One more story and I’m done.I was talking to a pastor friend of mine, Kumar Dixit at the New Hope Adventist church in Maryland a year ago. In his church, he does this thing where he invites guests at worship that morning to stay after the service for 7 minutes or less. He gives them a gift bag with a Steps to Christ book full of goodies and then explains some stuff about their church. I liked what he did so much that I decided to borrow it. But instead of giving the gift bags just to guests, we’re gonna line the stage with them once a month on First Serve Sabbath and call them Kindness 2 Go bags. In just a minute, at the end of our service, we’re gonna pray over those bags and the conversations and questions they will undoubtedly generate and then invite every guest and member present to come forward before we sing the closing hymn and take a bag home with them—as long as they promise to give it away to someone else during the following week. The next Sabbath, I’m gonna interview a few brave folks in church who did so simply asking them the same 4 questions: Who did you give your bag to? Why did you choose them? What did you say? And what was their response?
I’ll never forget what this one college student in my Wooster church told me. I had told him he could say, “This is our Kindness 2 Go bag. My pastor told me to give this to you for Jesus sake.” But when I interviewed him, what he said he said to his friend instead was, “This is a Kindness 2 Go bag. My church is giving these away for some reason. So take it for Christ’s sake.” And he did! And a couple weeks later, both of them were in church.
So you see it really doesn’t matter what you say or even how you say it. Because being normal and ordinary like Jesus is way more effective than being technologically advanced. Everybody clear on what they’re supposed to do wit these bags? Let’s have a look inside. Are there any questions? Please speak now or forever hold your...bag. Acts 4:13 [NIV] says it this way. “13When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” So let’s keep it normal people. And your outreach ordinary. Because small things done with great love still change the world. So I invite you to stand up, walk forward, and come get a bag. Give it away this week. And then come back next Sabbath and tell me how it went. You don’t mind a little homework do you? When everybody has their bag, Glenn is gonna play one of my favorite hymns #330 Take My Life And Let It Be and then we’ll close.
Father in heaven, thank you for another day of life. Please bless these bags and those who receive them. In Jesus’ Name we cheerfully serve, Amen.