Do you all remember what day it was last Tuesday? Of course you don’t, probably because you’ve blocked it from your memory so let me help you: last Tuesday was April 17th, or tax day! Usually it’s April 15th but since the 15th was on a Sunday and Patriot’s Day (a holiday only celebrated in Boston by the way) was Monday, the IRS in its infinite wisdom decided to make the 17th Tax Day so that you and I could procrastinate doing our taxes for 2 more days! Yippee! Don’t ever say that the IRS isn’t generous. So Belated Happy Tax Day to you!
I’ve learned many things throughout the course of my life and one thing I’ve learned is that there are 2 types of tax people: The people who do their own taxes and those who give all their crumpled receipts in a shoebox to an accountant. Actually, there’s a third category that my wife falls into: those who let their spouses do all the work and worry over taxes. As far as I’m concerned, this is the smartest group of people. As for me, I’m a let-the-accountant-handle-it kind of guy. As far as I’m concerned, the only math classes they should teach in school are how to apply for a mortgage and what an introductory APR is on a credit card is and how do I calculate my tip at Chili’s. That’s the math you need to know. I stopped being able to help my kids with their math homework when they entered the 3rd grade.
The Four Word Mission Statement
Perhaps that is the reason why several years back we decided to simplify our mission statement at my church, Canyon Springs in San Diego. It used to be very long and convoluted and no one on staff could ever remember it, except for me that is, but now its only four words: “It’s about the one.”
“The One” in this statement is two-fold: it obviously refers to our relationship with Jesus. We were created to be in relationship with the God of the universe and only then can we experience the forgiveness, joy, and peace that God intended for us. But once you know God and join his family, your work isn’t over. Once we are in relationship with the One, our goal is to grow and mature so that God can use us to reach the next one.
Do you know that pretty much everyone lives by the same motto as Canyon Springs Church? Most of the people I know would agree with this statement. They’d say, “I know it’s about the one. I’m the one. It’s all about me.” Well, I hate to break it to you, but you aren’t the one. It’s not about us. It’s about the one and you aren’t it.
Who’s the One?
1 Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering around to hear him. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”— Luke 15:1,2
Here’s the context: Jesus is hanging out with tax collectors and sinners. You know the type right? Lowlifes, druggies, Raider fans, people who listen to country music; the Pharisees didn’t like it. To sit down and eat with someone in the ancient Near East was a token of acceptance. Jesus was counting these people as his friends and the religious leaders were thinking “How can you accept these people who are doing all these bad things?” When we look at the Pharisees in this context, our response is typically, “Those Pharisees are such hypocrites. They are so high and mighty. I would never act like that. Put them in their place Jesus.” But the statement they are making is pretty much the same message we got from our parents: “You’re known by the company you keep;” “Make good friends;” “If you hang out with bad people you’ll become just like them.” We’ve all heard our parents say all those things, haven’t we? In fact, if you have kids, I’m sure you’ve said the same thing to them. We want our kids to hang out with good kids. To be safe. To have good role models. We don’t want them hanging out with tax collectors and sinners.
Listen, I totally get it. A couple of years ago when we started the process of choosing a college for my son I was trying to steer him to a nice, quiet Christian college where he would hang out with nothing but good kids. He’d be safe and I could sleep at night. It would be great. So what college did he choose? UCLA. The week before school starts was a tradition called Bruin Bash where Bruin walk is lined with representatives from every club at UCLA. Here’s a list of the possible clubs my son could have joined:
- University Buddhist Association
- Sahaja Meditation Group
- Baha’i Club
- Thaqalayn Muslim Association
- Latter-Day Saint Student Association
- The Poker Club at UCLA
- Gun-toting, drug-smoking partyers from hell
Okay, I made up that last one, but it might as well exist. This is not what I would have chosen for my son. I wanted him to go where I went: Biola, The Bible Institute of Los Angeles. There he could have chosen from all kinds of great clubs:
- The Bible Club
- The Missions Club
- The Feed-the-Homeless Club
- The bathe-the-elderly club
Good, wholesome clubs filled with nice boys and girls with good hair cuts and great table manners.
I took my family up to visit my son at UCLA for my birthday and while we were there he had us drive through the fraternity houses. I took one look at Fraternity Row and thought, this would be a great place for Riley to hang out. If he gets into recycling, he could get collect enough cans to pay for his college education. And let me tell you, I didn’t see a lot of diet coke cans on the street. If it were up to me I would have put him in a nice, safe, Christian college where the only Greek club was a bunch of guys who wanted to study the Bible in it’s original language.
Do you see what I mean, this scripture looks bad when the Pharisees say it, but it’s pretty much how most of us live our lives. We don’t welcome sinners. We don’t eat with them. We don’t make an effort to be in relationship with them. We try to put as much distance between them and our lives and our kids as possible. In fact, we’ve made a theological case against such practices. The most popular verse we use is in I Corinthians 15.
“Bad company corrupts good character.”– I Corinthians 15:33
Put it in Context
That pretty much sums up how we want our kids to operate. Stay away from bad people. It’s right there in black and white. Let me put that verse in context for you.: Paul is writing to the Corinthians warning them to stay away from other religious leaders who claim there is no resurrection. He’s talking about people who are a bad influence theologically. Do you have a lot of friends like that? Are you always getting into it over issues like the resurrection and the book of revelation and circumcision? Is that you? Listen, Paul’s not referring to tax collectors and sinners and Raider fans in these verses. In fact, if you were sitting down with Paul for coffee he’d say just the opposite.
19 Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews…To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.– I Corinthians 9:19,20, 22,23
In fairness there are verses that tell us to be careful about who we allow to influence us and there are times when we need to avoid certain groups. If you struggle with alcohol, it is wise to stop hanging out with your drinking buddies. That just makes sense. But so many Christians have taken this to such an extreme that their life has just become one big Christian club and we miss the whole reason God has us on this earth.
In Other Words
The Pharisees had lost track of what their mission was on earth. So Jesus gives them a big dose of perspective by telling three stories in Luke, Chapter 15. It’s these three stories that are the basis of our mission as a church.
3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.
8 “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? 9 And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. 13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. (I won’t read the whole story but ultimately the son comes back to the Father and they throw a big party)
Okay, three stories. All about lost things. Let’s review:
- The first story is about a lost sheep. But what’s it really about? Lost people.
- The second story is about a lost coin. But what’s it really about? Lost people.
- The third story is about a lost son. What’s it really about? Lost people who don’t know Jesus.
In each story it’s not about the found; it’s about the lost. It’s about the one.
Who’s Your One?
It’s great that you go to church on Sundays and that your kids are in youth group. It’s great that we are a part of a group that cares for us when we are going through a rough time. It’s great that you’re reading this. But it’s not about us and it’s not about me and it’s not about you, it’s about the one. It’s about your lost neighbor and your lost co-worker and their lost kids. It’s not about the found, it’s about the one. Jesus makes the math easy. All you have to do is count to one. Reach one. Pray for one. Care for one.