Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Church's Reputation

Paint the picture you want others to see. 

I bring to you a message from the Fried Chicken & Burritos blog.
This is a message I have preached many times in church of all sizes. 
The subject is serious, to me, and to the church.
I pray you'll listen and receive with an open heart. 

Luke 17:32-33
New International Version (NIV)

32 Remember Lot’s wife! 33 Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it.

This scripture puts me in auto drive and I immediately head back to Genesis 19.
It's impossible for me to hear the words "Lot's wife" and not drift back to the original story.

There is a bit of 'back story' before Genesis 19 we should probably look at first, however.
A conversation between Abraham, our Old Testament father of faith, and his nephew, Lot.

It is Genesis 13 where Abraham and Lot part ways.
Their possessions and people had gotten to large to co-exist in the same place.

 5 Now Lot, who was moving about with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents. 6 But the land could not support them while they stayed together, for their possessions were so great that they were not able to stay together. 7 And quarreling arose between Abram’s herders and Lot’s. The Canaanites and Perizzites were also living in the land at that time.
8 So Abram said to Lot, “Let’s not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herders and mine, for we are close relatives. 9 Is not the whole land before you? Let’s part company. If you go to the left, I’ll go to the right; if you go to the right, I’ll go to the left.”
So, they part ways.
For the best description, Abraham heads to the hilly, rocky country.
Lot heads to the lush, green land of Sodom in the Jordan Valley.

And, the scripture reads...
13 Now the people of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the LORD.
We'll come back to that later.

In Chapter 14, Abraham would save Lot's hide from the king of Sodom.
In Chapter 18, when the message comes that Sodom and Gomorrah are about to be destroyed, Abraham intercedes.
And now, we wind up at Chapter 19, where Jesus makes his reference and the story unfolds.

Sodom was a city notorious for its sin.
 In other terms, that was it's reputation.

Definition of REPUTATION
1 a : overall quality or character as seen or judged by people in general
   b : recognition by other people of some characteristic or ability
2: a place in public esteem or regard : good name

Sodom had everything you could ever want and more. Meat, drink, excess, debauchery, sex.
It had an awesome location, resources galore, and an expanding population.
The opportunities to make money there were sobering.

After that conversation in Genesis 13, it was here that Lot decided to make his home and raise his family.
Sodom was a place where the meat market thrived. Lot, of course, brought that livestock business here and soon turned it into an empire. Because of his shrewd business mind, Lot soon became a leader in the community, sitting in the gate of the city, presiding over it's affairs.

I dearly enjoy the video series "That the World May Know", presented by Focus on the Family with Dr. James Dobson.
The video's host throughout the series in Ray Vander Laan, bible teacher and historian.
He took a group on a walk through Israel in the early 90's when they made the series of videos.
At one location he showed the group the uncovered remains of a city gate, most likely from the Solomonic time period.
It might not be exactly like the gates a few centuries prior at Sodom, but it was enough to understand the culture.

A city gate would have small chambers on the inside walls behind the gates.
It would be here that one would come to meet with an important official to settle a dispute.
The king or one of his representatives might come here to meet with common people.
"I believe this man cheated me in a business deal, what should I do?"
"Lot, I'm think about starting a business. What should be my first steps?"

This became Lot's reputation.
A man you could approach and ask advice of on a subject.
A man you could trust, so they let him be a leader in the community.

I can't help but wonder...
What is the reputation of the town where you live?
The village of _____________
Better yet, what is your reputation?
What do people think of you?
What do they think as they pass by you in the grocery store?
Or, drive by your house during the day?

To take it a little farther, what is the reputation of your church?
The _____________ United Methodist Church.
What do people think about your church in the community? Do you know?
What do they think when they drive by and see your sign out front?
"I've been in that place. You don't want to go in there!"
"Those were some of the nicest people I ever met."
"Man, God is really with those people!" (1st Cor. 14.25)

Now, our attention turns to Lot's wife.
We don't know her name.
All we know from Genesis 19 is that she has been planning the weddings of their two daughters.
And with Lot being such a prominent member of the community, the guest list gets longer & longer.

Put yourself in her shoes for a moment.
As a young woman, dreaming someday of having daughters to raise.
If you were a mother, and all you have thought about and waited for is to plan the wedding of those two girls you have raised.
And, then suddenly, two strange visitors show up and shred those dreams.

Leave town? Leave my home, my way of life?
What about the weddings? What about all my plans?

My wife had to come to terms with the reality of selling our home and moving into the church's parsonage.
I can't even imagine what Lot's wife must feel about leaving the home behind they have raised their family in.

The two angelic messengers lead the way, followed by Lot, then by his wife and two daughters. Their husbands-to-be stay behind, thinking it all so much religious nonsense. As she passes through the slumbering neighborhood, maybe she begins to think it nonsense too.

 After their breathless uphill trek to the small town of Zoar, the morning dawns.
Slats of sun fall across the Jordan Valley, revealing an ominous billow of black clouds roiling toward the lowlands.

And Chapter 19 reads,
24 Then the LORD rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah—from the LORD out of the heavens. 25 Thus he overthrew those cities and the entire plain, destroying all those living in the cities—and also the vegetation in the land. 26 But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt. 
The Lord spoke. He told them not to do it.
Maybe what was back in that town was more important to her.

Those twelve words in the Old Testament paint the only picture we have of Lot’s wife.
Three in the New Testament put a caption beneath it.

“Remember Lot’s wife.”

Entombed in a pillar of salt, her life stands as a monument of warning:
“Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.”

 What must her daughters and husband thought?
One second their mother is following them.
The next she is gone.

What kind of example do we set for our children to follow?
Do we realize that their are eyes and ears listening to what we say and what we do.
One of those phrases I heard a lot growing up was, "Do as I say and not as I do."

And, here is where reputation is so important.
People are watching us.
People will decide on whether they want Jesus in their lives based upon what they see in ours.

It came to me as I pondered deeper into this subject...
In the area of Evangelism, what people think of us means everything.
In the area of Persecution, let it roll off your back like water.
That's why it's called persecution. It's their opinion and they can say what they want.
In Evangelism, what they see in us, hear from us, receive from means everything.

Of all the people’s lives that have set the example, that have showed us how to live, and give, and receive, none set the example better than our Lord and Savior.
He etched in our minds an image of tenderness when he invited the children to come to him.
He showed us a picture of compassion when he raised the widow of Nain’s son.
He silhouetted a profile of courage when he stood against the hypocrisy of the Pharisees.
He sketched a mural of meekness when he rode into Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey.
He sculpted the form of a servant when he washed the feet of his disciples.
He drew a portrait of a friend when he surrendered his life for us.
He showed us with graphic realism what it meant to love our enemies when, impaled on a Roman cross, he asked the Father to forgive those who had put him there.

Max Lucado said it best,
"God loves us just the way we are, but He refuses to leave us that way. He wants us to be just like Jesus."

Remember Him.

Remember Lot's wife.

And remember that one day you will be remembered too.
For the things you say.
For the example you set.
For the reputation that goes before you.