Monthly Archives: June 2010

You Sometimes Find Out Much Later

Well planned conference lunch breaks can facilitate interesting
conversation and helpful networking. I attended an intense 2-day Christian
ethics conference several years ago, and Sherron accompanied me. The
presentations had been challenging, goading participants to confront deep
questions rather than handing out simple answers. Some conferees continued
pitched discussions over lunch, but most people were ready for a comforting
respite from the proceedings. Old and new friends tended to tell stories of
home and history and hopes.

We sat across the table from a friend and classmate of mine from
seminary. If Sherron had met him during my student days it was only very
briefly in passing. Joe is a leading ethical voice among Baptist pastors.
He had been part of a panel presenting a strenuous call for Baptists to
strengthen our imitation of Jesus in our practice of justice and ethics. We
exchanged a few words of appreciation for his call to active Christian
faith, but our conversation turned pointedly toward matters of our personal
history.

Joe had been trying to recall the first time he met Sherron.
Meeting my beautiful wife at any time certainly would be an occasion worth
remembering. But Joe was convinced that something special was connected
with their introduction. He just couldn’t put his finger on it.

Our chatter meandered to reminiscences of seminary days and updates
about mutual friends and current developments in the neighborhoods around
the seminary. Joe currently serves a church a short distance from the
seminary campus, and also only blocks from where we last lived while
completing graduate work. Since Joe and Sherron did not spend any
appreciable time together during seminary days they covered the customary
ground of where each had grown up and highlights of their backgrounds.

Joe said that he had grown up in a city in Ohio, and was not very
much in touch with any church in his early years. Sherron said that hearing
his hometown was sort of funny because her home church had taken youth
mission trips there when she was in school. At her mention of the mission
trips, Joe sat upright in his chair. ‘”By any chance,” he asked, “did your
mission trip have a strange name for the singing group? Was it some kind of
made-up word or name?”
“Our youth choir and small ensemble singers were called ‘the Spireno
Singers” (an acronym for “spiritual revolution now,” a popular Christian
catch-phrase in the ’60s and ’70s). With that part of the puzzle in place,
Joe’s eyes began to fill with tears.

“I became a Christian because of your mission trip,” he said. “I
was becoming an urban street-wise kid with no real direction or hopes. I
saw this group of happy teenagers who seemed to be having a really good time
together and with the people they were meeting in my neighborhood. The
group had this strange-sounding name and were inviting everybody to a
concert they were putting on outdoors. I noticed that the group had some
really pretty girls (note: a soon-to-be Miss Alabama and Sherron among
them), so I thought I would check it out. I saw the love they had for each
other and for people like me, and I heard about Jesus like I had never heard
before. That started me on the road to faith in Jesus Christ, and that has
led me here today.” With tears rolling down his cheeks – matching the ones
on Sherron’s – Joe said, “Thank you, and thank God for that mission trip to
my city.”

You sometimes find out much later the significance of what you do as
a simple act of faith. Other times you never get a first-hand report like
Joe’s story, but you trust God to use the love and joy you share in
following Jesus to draw other people to his great love and grace.

This week a group of more than 30 teenagers and their adult sponsors
took a 22-hour bus ride overnight from Huntsville, Alabama to Connecticut on
a youth mission trip. They will display the exuberant joy of a large group
of teenage friends away from home together in an exciting new place. They
will laugh with each other and will do memorable antics together. They will
enthusiastically reach out to children and youth in a distressed
neighborhood in order to teach and demonstrate God’s love for some people
who might not feel very loved. Who knows what the outcome of their joyous,
loving following of Jesus will be.

Wherever followers of Jesus find themselves – whether on a special
trip to a distant city for the express purpose of sharing the gospel of
Christ, or at the ballpark, or at work, or in a shopping center, or anywhere
– we have the opportunity to introduce someone to God’s life-transforming
love and grace in Jesus Christ. We may or may not ever learn about the
effect our living by Jesus’ love may have on someone. Unexpected
testimonies are enough. We are called to demonstrate Jesus’ love more and
more.

Jesus put it this way: “All people will know that you are my
followers if you love each other.” (John 13:35 NCV) Jesus-kind of love
should radiate from us: “You should be a light for other people. Live so
that they will see the good things you do and will praise your Father in
heaven.” (Matthew 5:16 NCV) Paul recognized the power of followers of Jesus
reflecting the love of Christ: “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of
darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the
knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6
NIV)

One of my very favorite passages of scripture explains beautifully
the reason, the method, and the effect of sharing the gospel of Christ on
mission to distant locations or down the street:

Dear friends, we should love each other, because love comes from God.
Everyone who loves has become God’s child and knows God. {8} Whoever does
not love does not know God, because God is love
{9} This is how God showed his love to us: He sent his one and only Son into
the world so that we could have life through him. {10} This is what real
love is: It is not our love for God; it is God’s love for us in sending his
Son to be the way to take away our sins. {11} Dear friends, if God loved us
that much we also should love each other.
{12} No one has ever seen God, but if we love each other, God lives in us,
and his love is made perfect in us. {13} We know that we live in God and he
lives in us, because he gave us his Spirit. {14} We have seen and can
testify that the Father sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. {15}
Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God has God living inside, and
that person lives in God. {16} And so we know the love that God has for us,
and we trust that love. God is love. Those who live in love live in God, and
God lives in them. (1 John 4:7-16 NCV)

Pray for vibrant groups of people who delight in each other’s
communion as they demonstrate God’s love o mission trips. Do some
Jesus-kind of loving, yourself, with followers of Jesus around you. Tell
others about the love and grace of God. You sometime just might find out
much later how God transformed life by the love you shared.

– J. Edward Culpepper

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