Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Reflections on the Tree of LIfe: Persons of Peace

Every year the city of Fremont, Washington, holds a naked bike race. The participants decorate themselves with body paint and ride their bicycles through the city. People line up to watch them go by; just like a regular hometown parade!

In all the craziness of the parade, one man comes with a message that he shouts through a bullhorn. His message is for people to turn to God and repent of their sins. Let me ask you a question: how receptive do you think that crowd is to both his message and his presentation of his message?

Not too much. My guess is that he is accomplishing the very opposite of what he desires to do: bring people into a loving relationship with God. Sadly, people like him and others who make public presentations to unreceptive crowds often do far more damage to the life giving message of Jesus than good. It not only pushes people who are further away from God, but it discourages people that follow Jesus from being witnesses.

I remember when I was in elementary school our church had us go door to door inviting people to come to VBS. I was rather shy as a child and the situation was highly mortifying to me. It didn’t help me to become a better witness to Jesus, it rather shut me down. How many of you have similar memories?

It’s often a conflicting situation for those of us who want to follow Jesus’ priorities; his two main ones being the Great Commandment: Love God, love ourselves, love others, and the Great Commission: Go into all the world and make disciples. How are we to go and make disciples when we are frozen by fear or dulled to apathy to speak out a witness to who Jesus is?

This is where it gets fun. When Jesus sent his disciples out for the first time to do ministry without his presence, he gave them clear instructions: (see Luke 9 and 10). He told them to “Tell everyone about the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.” He followed up with “Don’t load yourselves up with equipment. Keep it simple; you are the equipment. And no luxury inns, get a modest place and be content there until you leave. If you aren’t welcomed, leave town. Don’t make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and move on” (Message, Luke 9).

Apparently, their experiences were so successful that the group of 12 became a crowd of 70. Once again, Jesus was clear on the strategy for being his witnesses:
1Later the Master selected seventy and sent them ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he intended to go. He gave them this charge:
"What a huge harvest! And how few the harvest hands. So on your knees; ask the God of the Harvest to send harvest hands.
3"On your way! But be careful—this is hazardous work. You're like lambs in a wolf pack.
4"Travel light. Comb and toothbrush and no extra luggage.
"Don't loiter and make small talk with everyone you meet along the way.
5-6"When you enter a home, greet the family, 'Peace.' If your greeting is received, then it's a good place to stay. But if it's not received, take it back and get out. Don't impose yourself.
7"Stay at one home, taking your meals there, for a worker deserves three square meals. Don't move from house to house, looking for the best cook in town.
8-9"When you enter a town and are received, eat what they set before you, heal anyone who is sick, and tell them, 'God's kingdom is right on your doorstep!' (The Message, Luke 10)

I see some pretty key directives in Jesus’ instructions. First, he sent them to areas where he intended to go. Even though Jesus didn’t physically go with them, his presence was there. The ground was ready and fertile.

This is pretty important too: he told them to pray for the harvest and the harvesters. I’ve found a simple way to follow Jesus’ directive and that is to set my phone alarm to go off at 10:02 every day. When the alarm goes off, I take a couple of minutes right where I am to pray for God to raise up harvesters. If I am with other people, I invite them to join me in the prayer. I’d like to encourage you to join myself and many others who are doing this; when we pray at the same time, we have a bigger sense of what God is doing that is beyond us. It’s really quite a thrilling thing to do!

After the ground is broken up through prayer, Jesus tells them how to travel the journey: Be careful, recognize the hazards. Be innocent but also very aware of the people around you. Travel light: like the Survivor TV show, you pretty much have the clothes on your back!

Jesus also encourages his followers to focus. He’s sent them on a mission and they are to stay focused on it and not get distracted by a bigger and better offer, casual conversation or even loitering on the way.

I find the next part of Jesus’ strategy to be very important and life changing from the way that I have often been taught or modeled how to do evangelism. Jesus told his followers to look for “The Persons of Peace.” He describes them as those who will welcome you, serve you and listen to you. They will invite you into their home and provide hospitality, all the while absorbing what you have to say.

Tell me, how different is this from the man with the bullhorn in Fremont or the canvassing of neighborhoods to invite them to join our “spiritual activities?” I find it refreshingly different. It’s a chance for us to discover, who is open to hearing about the life changing relationship with Jesus. It’s an opportunity to spend our time with those that are receptive to the message, rather than hostile.

Paul writes about the Persons of Peace in Acts 16, giving two key examples of how it can work. On Sunday, Paul and his friends went down to the riverbank where they knew some people met for prayer and asked to join them. The leader of the women gathered was Lydia, an influential woman that is described as a “worshiper of God.” In other words, her heart was already ready to receive news about Jesus. She opened her heart to Jesus and her influence spread to her friends and family.

The next thing she did would be considered scandalous in Paul’s culture. She, as a single woman, invited Paul and his male friends, to come and stay at her home. Paul ends with “and she urged us until we did.” Paul probably protested more than a little because it was culturally very taboo, but maybe he remembered Jesus’ instruction to look for the Person of Peace and to stay where they were.

Persons of Peace are simultaneous with Harvesters. Persons of Peace are usually people of influence and when they decide that Jesus’ message is good news, they tell all their friends and family about it and invite them to join in the fun. Persons of Peace are ready to hear the message, God has already prepared their spirit to receive the message and respond.

Jesus told his disciples at the beginning of chapter 10: “I am sending you to places where I intend to go.” In other words, he has already prepared the soil of their spirits to receive his message. I love this! It takes all the pressure off of me and puts it squarely where it belongs: right on Jesus. It’s all his work anyway; why not enjoy the process and make some good friends along the way?
The second story in Acts 16 finds Paul and Silas in prison. They, despite being stripp
ed and beaten with wooden rods and put in an inner dungeon with their feet in stocks, were worshipping God when all the doors of the prison fell open. The jailer woke up and went to commit suicide because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But, Paul yelled out, “Don’t do it, we are still here.”

The jailer was prepared to receive the message because he immediately asked, “What do I need to be saved?” Then he took them home, washed their wounds and shared the good news of Jesus with his household. That very night everyone in the house was baptized.

Do you see the process? They jailer asked the question, so he listened to what they had to say. They jailer served them by washing their wounds and feeding them a meal. He welcomed them by inviting them into his home, and he shared his influence with them by introducing them to his whole family.
That’s a classic Person of Peace, although I think that we all hope that we don’t have to meet them the same way that Paul and Silas did!

Jesus ends his instructions to his followers by telling them, “If they don’t listen to you, leave them.” He goes onto say, “Anyone who accepts your message is also accepting me. And anyone who rejects you is rejecting me.” This is another note of reassurance. If people don’t like what we have to say, it’s not us they are rejecting, it’s Jesus. We don’t have to personalize people’s responses, and we aren’t responsible for them either.

What are you going to do to respond? I urge you to start by praying for the harvesters, or Persons of Peace. Set your alarm for 10:02 and when you pray each day, be specific. Who do you want to see God raise up? Is it a Person of Peace from a certain age group, ethnicity, city or country, or interest area? Get creative and have fun with it.

Then, open your eyes to see that the fields are ripe for harvest!

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