Tranzsend Week 3, 2018 – Mission Essentials

I have come to understand that God’s mission for and before us, is a sobering prospect, I can no longer be ignorant, complacent, shut-off, on the side-line, but rather Spirit-filled, involved, energetic, visionary, awake to what God has in store. What is God asking of us/you?

You’ll recall these words from last week…“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” [1]

Why talk about grace? Grace is the fuel in the tank that informs and motivates us to mission. Without this grace there is zero authenticity to mission. Mission: this great privilege but all-encompassing calling that we participate in, why because we are Christian. What’s the converse of cheap grace…costly grace.

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man’ will gladly go and sell all that he has…it is the call of Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him. (This) grace is costly because it calls us to follow, the person of Jesus. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the Father the life of his Son: “you were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much…cannot be cheap for us.[2]  Grace and mission go hand in hand, mutually inclusive. Grace is the fuel in the tank that motivates us to mission.

 

This week’s P & SD theme of ‘A New Generation’ presents us with a vision to think beyond ourselves to those new Christians that God is calling to Himself, in this community, this city… through our obedience, in his mission for us. We’ll learn the need to be open-minded in the way that God can use and change us, to exercise grace, as we move forward in His plan.

Today it is the story of Cornelius’ conversion and Peter’s involvement in this that we’re looking at in Acts 10. Luke – the likely writer of Acts – gives an account of events here that were crucial in the progress of the first century church and their fulfilment of the Great Commission.

Cornelius was a Roman centurion, centurions typically would command around 100 soldiers. He lived in Ceasarea on the Mediterranean coast, which at the time was the center of the Roman administration for the immediate province[3]. Not unsurprisingly there were more Gentiles than Jews living in Ceasarea…and not a happy community.

According to one commentator I read: The Jews hated Caesarea, and “would often speak of it as though it were (not even a) part of Judea.”[4] [5] But Cornelius “devout and God-fearing” (v.2) was – as Acts 10:22 says – “respected by all the Jewish people”

This was the context within which God, through Peter would progress the Great Commission. This is a story of the change and grace at work in the hearts of 2 men.[6]

  1. How is this passage (Acts 10) relevant for us today?

Relevant because in this day, that some might call… “post-Christian”, of so few coming to trust Christ as Saviour, of moral erosion…we can be reminded that God’s heart, that doesn’t and hasn’t changed, is…still, for that lost one, still to see the church mobilised, in unity, reaching others… today is the day for the church to live out authentic grace!

 

When we look at the cultural, ethnic make-up of our church – which is changing all the time, Praise God, and the cultural, ethnic make-up of the community we are located, of our city and then places globally we and our teams are ministering into, the message Acts 10 gives us, is one of Gods heart, love, message and mission, being for all people, all communities, all nations, but it’s a proactive mission.

It also means any…discrimination and prejudice we may wrestle with, which is cheap grace, must give way and defer to His way…whose ways are above our ways.

 

There are 2 statements of Peter’s, found in verses 28 and 34 (look at shortly)…for me are profound, and missionally defining.  How so? Here is the man who witnessed the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, saw people coming to faith left right and centre, he is the man who said (of himself and John) “we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20) and in this story we see Peter’s humility, he had recognised a blindspot, but he was also willing to do what needed to be done in order to not be an obstruction to the Great Commission…are all keys to grasping the relevance for today.

 

With this account in mind I want to briefly explore:

The place of attitude, of what’s uncomfortable, of prayer, of hospitality and the place of obedience in Mission

 

  1. The place of attitude in Mission

“God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean” (v.28)

 

Peter had realised that the barriers that once existed be they cultural, or whatever they were/are, or how they were imposed…through Christ, are now broken down. Peter’s attitude and posture needed to change…

 

Paul helps us further explain what Peter’s position changed to, in Gal. 3:28 “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” and in Eph. 2:11-17 Paul explains that Jesus’ sacrifice directly resulted in the breaking down of historical cultural barriers to knowing him as Lord. Jesus’ death and sacrifice means salvation is available freely to all and to anyone who accepts him as Lord.

Note what the bible says in verse 44: “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message…. 47 “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. This means it was an all-inclusive, indiscriminate pouring out on “whoever believes”.

Cornelius was not typical of the not-yet-Christian, though he was not a Jew in the full sense[7], he had heard and responded to the Old Testament message, scripture describing him as a God-fearer, who “prayed to God regularly” (10:2)”[8]  So there is a degree in which Cornelius was ahead of Peter in terms of the barriers, if you note Cornelius’ attitude seen in verse 4 & 5. His prayers and generosity to others were an offering to God. God noticed the heart and actions of Cornelius, and then his willingness to meet with Peter.

That Peter needed a drastic message from God to get rid of his prejudices about distinctions among people suggests that (anyone of us) may occasionally need a major paradigm shift, a heart change in order to come into line with God’s thinking.[9]

Having the right attitude for mission may mean repentance of past prejudices toward others, towards people of other cultures, races, ethnicities…if we are carrying any prejudices they will be obstacles to any evangelistic intent and efforts… the cross has opened the way for all people to come to know him, so ought we!

If we struggle with issues of prejudice can I suggest we seek to understand why and what is the basis of that? Could be insecurity, inferiority, a lack of certainty for ourselves and our acceptance in Jesus.

 

Identity in Jesus means each one of us who know Christ as Saviour do so because of his mercy and grace toward us, not because of anything we did or could do: underserving of his love but he loves us anyway. So when we truly understand grace and that we are never superior to others, it is not difficult for us to apologize, to admit we were wrong, then we recognize and reflect that in the way we treat others. That’s the attitude we need for mission.

We must be opponents of what is unfair, unjust, and ungodly and proponents of, and leading the way in, what is right and just…activists for truth, but understanding fully who that truth is!…

  1. The place of what’s uncomfortable in Mission

We are all God’s missionaries. There’s never a moment we’re not about God’s mission. God’s mission is not the task of a faithful few, but for us all.

One wonders how much has not been achieved missionally, evangelistically, or how many people have missed out on the blessing that comes from serving God, in what he’s called us all to…because, it’s too uncomfortable. I.e. the saying is, it’s outside my comfort zone.

 

(STORY) The Maltose people are a mountain tribe in India that historically has had such a high mortality rate that they were expected to become extinct by 2025. They almost never bathe since they have no access to water. Consequently, the rest of society rejects them. People will not go near them because of the smell they emit. Some years ago though missionaries from the Friends Missionary Prayer Band[10] based in India began a work among this tribe. They not only visited their villages, they committed to living in the homes with the Maltose people.

 

By 1996, about 34,000 of the 85,000 people in this tribe had become Christians, and with a change in lifestyle, came a significant drop in the mortality rate. But the missionaries paid a great price for this harvest. Four of them have died of the diseases that have been killing others among the Maltose: namely malaria and tuberculosis[11]

 

“Surely not, Lord!” Peter said in v. 14 “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean”…and the Lords response in the vision: “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean”. Because I have to stick to the rules Lord I can’t go and live among those people who stink…

 

Initially he had strong convictions, but those convictions needed to change. But when he could see that God was showing him something new, he seriously considered the implications of the vision. What happened here was a combination of the Holy Spirits guidance and Peter’s willingness to let go of the familiar and the comfortable, to produce a change in his thinking for the sake of Gods mission.

How many of us have thought or articulated this: ‘Surely God wouldn’t expect me to do that, I won’t enjoy doing that, I’m not equipped to do that, I can’t be happy doing that…it doesn’t feel right’. If and when we’re praying for God to open doors of opportunity for us, we must be at the same time willing to step out of what is comfortable and be the answer to our own prayers.

(Matthew West song)[12]I woke up this morning
Saw a world full of trouble now
Thought, how’d we ever get so far down
How’s it ever gonna turn around
So I turned my eyes to Heaven
I thought, “God, why don’t You do something?”
Well, I just couldn’t bear the thought of
People living in poverty
Children sold into slavery
The thought disgusted me
So, I shook my fist at Heaven
Said, “God, why don’t You do something?”
He said, “I did, I created you”

Unwillingness, and reluctance to step out of comfort, to change old religious habits is inconsistent with GO….as we ask God to send us out, send us forth, to build his church…we do so, being willing to do what the Holy Spirit is asking us to do…

  1. The place of prayer in Mission

(v.9) About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray.

and in (v.30) Cornelius answered: “Three days ago I was in my house praying at this hour, at three in the afternoon. Suddenly a man in shining clothes stood before me 31 and said, ‘Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembered your gifts to the poor.

 

Prayer is NOT insignificant in God’s mission for us. Prayer is the posture, the place and the space in which and through which God speaks. We see it here with God’s message coming to Peter while he was engaged in private prayer. Then God spoke to Cornelius also, when he was in prayer.

I know prayer has always been an important aspect of the life and ministry of FBC. And we’re continuing to build on that, growing the prayer culture.

 

When we read scripture we see that God used prayer as an occasion to lead people into avenues (sometimes new) of mission and ministry, as occasions to break through to them, to open their eyes to something new, to shape their thinking. That’s evident in today’s text with Peter and Cornelius. So we ought to pray!

 

Prayer is the gift God has given us, it is the means through which we discover his reality for us, and is our demonstration of dependence on Him. Remove prayer as a discipline from our Christian walk, what do you have? Encourage you to pray, become a prayer, make prayer your priority for the church…

(Suggest)…bold?… “Here I am Lord to serve you, what is your mission for me?” “What are you asking of me God”?

 

  1. The place of hospitality in Mission

Hospitality is a strong biblical principle and understatedly one of the keys of God’s mission for us. Hospitality is and can be an effective means for growing relationships, establishing unity and reaching others for Christ, when we have the right intentionality in place.

In v. 23 of Acts 10 we read of Peter’s bold step of inviting “the men into the house to be his guests”.

It was easier for a Jew to have Gentiles stay with him than for a Jew to stay with Gentiles. Nevertheless, this act – uncomfortable as it was – was a great step forward for Peter.[13]

 

I want to say we FBC do hospitality well. It was one of the areas Karyn and I heard was/is a strength of this church before we came.  But we can take what’s good and make it greater. (Monday lunch…)

How can we grow this and other areas in the life of the church? How can we be more intentional? We’re going to answer those questions in the next few months as we continue to pray and develop our mission plan. I believe hospitality will be a key strategy for our growth and reaching people for Jesus. As we do let’s remember that biblical hospitality has a missional or an evangelistic purpose. It is hospitality that is intentional about serving others, generosity toward others and creating pathways for connecting people to the gospel.

 

  1. The place of obedience in Mission

In Acts 10 we see Peter gave a lot of consideration to what he had ‘seen’. Why? Because he genuinely wanted to obey God and be led in the direction God wanted him to go.

 

In verses 7-8 the angel gave instructions to Cornelius, and he obeyed them. And in verse 33 as he was recounting his ‘prayer’ time he said to Peter ….I sent for you immediately, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us.”

 

Cornelius’ obedience to God provided a platform for the Holy Spirit to be sent to the Gentiles.

If there is something we can learn from this account about how God leads individuals and the church into new exciting paths of obedience, it is simply this…to learn to listen to the Holy Spirit, and then to obey what the Holy Spirit would have us do – will always advance God’s mission, always glorify God. If what we’re hearing doesn’t love God and love others, then, well, have another listen!

The dramatic intervention of God in the life of Cornelius and his family gives us hope for those who do not yet know God. Therefore if we are believing and praying for New Generations of Christians both locally and abroad, that’s our business…we are to learn from the obedience of Cornelius and Peter.

TAKEAWAYS

Have the right attitude for Mission

Step out of the comfort zone for Mission

Be prayerful in and for Mission

Be hospitable in Mission

Obey God’s call for Mission

= Costly Grace

 

This is what is required of us in seeing a New Generation of believers come to know Christ… we’re a part of making that happen…

 

 

[1] https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/83530-cheap-grace-is-the-grace-we-bestow-on-ourselves-cheap

[2] https://caffeinatedthoughts.com/2010/06/dietrich-bonhoeffer-cheap-grace-vs-costly-grace/

[3] Palestine?

[4] From: Fernando, Ajith. “Original Meaning” In NIV Application Commentary, New Testament: Acts. By Ajith Fernando, 317-332. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, © 1998. It’s likely this tension escalated to the massacre of around 20,000 Jews being massacred in AD 66

[5] Fernando, A

[6] It was a centurion that Jesus first ministered to and whose servant Jesus healed (Matt. 8). It was a centurion at Jesus’ crucifixion who said “surely this man was the son of God” (Matt. 27:54), and here of course Cornelius.

[7] Not circumcised, but basically did everything else typical of being a Jew

[8] Fernando, A

[9] Fernando, A

[10] Vision: “The goal of Friends Missionary Prayer Band is building transformed communities by reaching the unreached Indians with the Good News of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ”

[11] Adapted from Fernando

[12] http://www.metrolyrics.com/do-something-lyrics-matthew-west.html

[13] Fernando, A