August 16, 2015
Rev. John Watts
Nampa First UMC
IT’S ALL ABOUT PEOPLE
One of my favorite all time songs is “Georgia on My Mind”, sung by the incomparable Ray Charles. He was born in Georgia. He moved to Florida as an infant. He later moved to Seattle. For much of his life he made his home in Los Angeles. So I’m not sure how much of Georgia he really had on his mind, but he sure could sing that song!
What do you have on your mind? What are you thinking about most of the time? Thoughts are powerful. A wise person said this:
Watch your thoughts, they become words;
watch your words, they become actions;
watch your actions, they become habits;
watch your habits, they become character;
watch your character, it becomes your destiny.
You can tell a lot about a person by whatever it is that they always have on their mind.
Think back to the days when you were head over heels in love for the very first time. Can you remember how difficult it was to concentrate on anything else? Your schoolwork suffered, you couldn’t eat, you couldn’t sleep, you lost interest in everything else, all because you had a particular person on your mind.
Some parents always have their children on their mind. Sometimes excessively. They can’t go out on a date without several calls home to the babysitter to make sure everything is OK. Some people have business on their minds always. Too much. They are not capable of leaving work at work when they come home. Some people are always thinking about their next meal. Some people are always thinking about their next party. Quite a few people are always thinking about money or something money can buy. And I’ve noticed we have some people in this part of the country, especially as fall approaches, who are always thinking about the Boise State Broncos.
What do you always have on your mind? We’re not going to pass the microphone around. We’ll let you keep your thoughts to yourself. Actually, as we noted, it’s not that easy to keep your thoughts to yourself. Because thoughts lead to words and then actions and habits and character and destiny. One thing Jesus never did very well was to keep his thoughts to himself. When we read the Bible it becomes very clear what Jesus always had on his mind.
It wasn’t Georgia or romance or money or fame. It was people. If he had a theme song it would have been, “People, Always on My Mind.” Young people, old people, rich people, poor people, people who believe in God, people who don’t, popular people, forgotten people, people who everyone else considered a nobody. Never in human history has anyone displayed a greater preoccupation with people than Jesus.
We got a glimpse into the life of Jesus today. What we read comes near the beginning of his public ministry. He’s barely out of the wilderness. Maybe he’s had a meal or two to regain his strength. But there’s no time to waste. It’s time for him to call his first disciples. They were fishermen. They had fishing on their mind pretty much all the time. Jesus said to them: “Follow me. No longer will your lives revolve around fishing. From now on you will be fishers of men, fishers of women, fishers of people.”
Not that there’s anything wrong with fishing. There’s nothing wrong with any honest, ethical way to make a living. Jesus is just letting his followers know right up front that ultimately they are in the people business.
And then he shows them what that means. Thoughts lead to words and words lead to action. He does the first miracle Mark tells us about. The first one in John you might remember is water to wine. Here we have a man with an unclean spirit. A demon. The demon is speaking to Jesus and Jesus gets tired of listening to it and says, “Be silent, and come out of him!” That’s all it took. The man was set free. And Jesus had demonstrated to his new disciples what it means to be in the people business. It means people are always on your mind. It means always looking for opportunities to love people, to restore people, to set people free.
Jesus modeled this at the beginning of his ministry, throughout his ministry, and at the end of his ministry. Most of us when we are in enough pain have a very hard time thinking about anyone but ourselves. But Jesus, with his entire body’s weight held by those nails that had been pounded through his flesh, had his mind on other people. He prayed for his executioners: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” He was concerned for his mother. He arranged for her care. And then perhaps his last thought before he died was the salvation of the thief nailed to the cross beside him. Always thinking about people! Never has anyone in human history displayed a greater preoccupation with people. They were always on his mind.
Why? Why was Jesus so stuck on people? And how? How was he able to maintain that focus even in the most difficult of circumstances? Three thoughts.
First, Jesus knew the heart of God. He knew in the words of that song that, “God loves people more than anything.” And he knew that God doesn’t love people as a general category. He loves individual people. He loves each solitary person. That’s the point of those three parables in Luke 15, the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. The punch line is verse 10 where Jesus says, “All the courts of heaven erupt in cosmic celebration when a single lost person bows the knee in repentance and faith.” When a single lost person comes home. Safe at home.
It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done. You can’t escape God’s love. Jesus kept teaching that. Jesus kept living that. The love of God is wide. it is radically inclusive. Nobody is left out. God’s heart is wide as the heavens. And Jesus knew God’s heart, so his heart too was radically inclusive.
Second, Jesus understood eternal realities. He kept reminding people that their days were numbered. He kept reminding people that no earthly commodity makes it from this world to the next — not land, not home, not bank accounts, not titles, not achievements. It all gets left behind, except . . . Do you know what the single exception is? People. The only treasure that can go from this world to the next is people. That’s why Jesus said, “Lay not up for yourself treasure on earth,” because the only true treasure is people.
Jesus felt this urgency to let people know the good news about God’s love before it’s too late. Because he knew that one day it would be too late. And what a tragedy it would be for even one of God’s beloved children to be lost. People were always on his mind.
Third, Jesus saw potential in people. He didn’t see people as they were. He saw people as they could become, by the grace of God. He saw what was possible if the power of God were released in a person’s life.
Who else could have seen the hidden philanthropist in Zacchaeus who everyone else knew only as a dishonest tax collector? What else could have seen the rock on which the church would be built in Peter, than rough fisherman we met earlier? Who else could have seen a godly woman in Mary Magdalene who everyone else saw as trash?
Jesus just looked at people differently. He could look past the garbage and see the potential. He had an irrepressible optimism about people. People were transformed because he believed in them.
So Jesus knew God’s heart, he understood eternal realities, and he saw potential in people. That’s why people were always on his mind. That’s how he was able to maintain that focus right up to his dying breath.
We’ve been talking about Jesus. Now we’re going to turn a corner and talk about us. We’re going to talk about us in relation to these three. Jesus knew God’s heart, understood eternal realities, and saw potential in people. Do we?
First, do we know God’s heart as Jesus did? Are we radically inclusive? Is nobody left out?
Did you know that the longer you have been a Christian, the less likely it is that you will share your faith with another person? It should be the opposite. The more we know and the more we grow in God’s love the more that love should just naturally be passed on to other people. That’s what we would think. And yet it’s newer Christians who tend to be the best evangelists. It’s veteran Christians who tend to be the most tongue-tied when it comes to talking about their faith.
There’s a reason for that. Most long-time Christians spend most of their time with other long-time Christians. So they don’t have as many opportunities. And most new Christians tend to spend most of their time when people who aren’t yet Christians. Also new Christians tend to be more excited about their faith and more eager to share it than long-time Christians are.
That’s why. But if you’re a long-time Christian like me, that’s no excuse. If we know the heart of God as Jesus knew the heart of God, people will always be on our mind. Especially people who don’t know how much God loves them.
Second, do we understand eternal realities as Jesus did? Are we living with that sense of urgency because we know life on this earth does not last forever?
I’ve been your pastor for just over five years now. In that time 57 of our members have died. I read down the list and virtually every person is someone I had the privilege of getting to know real well. Dear people. Godly people. We miss them. And we are reminded by that list that the death rate is still just about 100%.
After we die, then what? There’s a lot I don’t know about the particulars, but Jesus clearly taught that we are going to spend eternity either with God or apart from God. And it’s not too late for us to choose. But one day it will be too late. Because one day we will die. If we believe, as Jesus believed that the only treasure that makes it from this world to the next is people, then what are we doing with that belief? What are we doing to share Jesus with others? What are we doing to make the courts of heaven erupt in cosmic celebration because one more lost person has come home?
Finally, are we seeing the potential in people as Jesus did? Do we have his irrepressible optimism about what’s possible for a person when God gets ahold of a person? Do we have a Christmas morning spirit about the people we meet? What surprise is under this tree? What surprise is inside this package?
Or, do we think we already know all we need to know about this person? He’ll never change. She’ll never amount to anything. This is a bad person and it’s not a good idea even to associate with bad people. Do you realize they said that to Jesus? He spent way too much time with the low lifes. They couldn’t see as Jesus saw that no person is beyond God’s love. There is not a person who cannot be changed by God’s grace. Can we see that?
When I say the name Chuck Colson, I wonder if you have a positive or a negative association. Maybe both. Some of you haven’t heard of him. You’re too young. He was in the news mainly about 40 years ago when he was deeply involved in Watergate, the only scandal in our history that forced a president to resign. He spent seven months in federal prison. He gave his life to Jesus in prison.
When he got out, he knew Jesus was calling him to begin a prison ministry. He started Prison Fellowship. You’ll find a simple statement on their website. “Prison Fellowship believes that no life is beyond the reach of God’s love.” It’s still going strong, stronger than ever, three years now after Chuck Colson’s death.
From the moment of his calling into ministry until the moment of his death, 38 years later, Chuck Colson had prisoners on his mind. He had seen first-hand that our prisons are filled with wasted human potential. And he was able to see as Jesus was able to see beyond the obvious sin and brokenness in these people. He could see the possibilities.
I want to leave you with a story that comes out of Chuck Colson’s ministry. He spent some time in the Philippines where prison conditions are deplorable. While there, he met a former inmate of that prison system who had been led to Christ through “Prison Fellowship.” He had been mentored and coached and believed in by somebody. Through “Prison Fellowship” he had been loaned some money to start a business. It wasn’t a lot of money, but it was enough money for him to purchase a pedicab. Does anyone know what a pedicab is? Here is a pedicab.
It’s just a bicycle with a passenger compartment attached to it. It is kind of a third world taxi.
This man had already earned enough to repay his loan. Now he had a job. Now he had a future. Before he had no future, no faith, no hope. Now he was a Christian. Now he had the self-respect of his own business.
While Chuck Colson was talking to this man, his four-year-old daughter ran up to him. She hugged his leg. She looked up at him as if to say, “Daddy, I’m so glad that you’re home with us again!” The father was caressing his daughter’s hair and choking back tears because he was so glad to be back with his family and on his feet again.
Chuck Colson said he always carried that mental picture in his mind. That father and daughter. That picture of redemption and restoration. That picture made all those years of having prisoners on his mind worthwhile.
It’s all about people. That’s all that matters. Jesus says, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of people.” He’s talking to us.
Lord Jesus, we confess that our minds have been distracted from this single priority that was the focus of your life. People. All people. Every person. Lord Jesus, make us more like you. Make people our passion. We ask it in your name. Amen.