“Secret Agents” by John Lee

“Secret Agents” by John Lee

            Human creativity is remarkable but it all originates from the God who created us. God is a creative, loving, and compassionate God, and he is also a God who does New things. In Isaiah 43:18-19 it says,

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” Isaiah 43:18-19 NIV

            God is a God who makes things new and that includes people. In 2 Corinthians 5:17, the Apostle Paul says,

For if a man is in Christ he becomes a new person altogether—the past is finished and gone, everything has become fresh and new. J.B. Phillips New Testament

            When we say “yes” to Jesus, God makes you into a new person. You get a new beginning and a fresh start! You now have a life full of meaning and purpose. You now have a future filled with hope. Your sins are completely forgiven. Your slate is wiped clean. He now sees you holy and blameless. You are made completely righteous, as righteous as God’s Son! You are no longer defined by the past or by what the world thinks of you or says of you. You’re defined purely and solely by what God thinks of you and God says, “You are my masterpiece and you are now mine.” When God makes you new, He’s got your back now forever and always; nothing can snatch you out of his hand. Even that the evil that is intended to harm you God can use for your good. When God makes you new, you become God’s child, a son or daughter of the King and ruler of the world. When God makes you new, you become Royalty. And you are promised “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.”

            But once God makes us new, he continues to change us throughout our lives making us more and more into the image of his Son. And he also helps us to know and see more and more of who he is. Romans 11:33 says,

“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” Romans 11:33 ESV

And Lamentations 3:22-23 says

“The Lord’s love never ends; his mercies never stop. They are new every morning” Lamentations 3:22-23 New Century Version

            God does not change and never will. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The core message of our faith or the Gospel will never change either. God created the world, humanity became in need of a Savior, Jesus was our Savior and then died and rose from the dead so we could be forgiven and simply by believing in him we can have a relationship with God forever. But the beautiful thing about being in a relationship with God and the beautiful thing about the God of this earth is that is always more of his goodness and beauty that we can discover. Layer upon layer upon layer of wonder and beauty. And in this new year, deep in my heart I believe God wants to give YOU a broader perspective of who he is, especially if you don’t know him. And he also wants to use you as an agent of change to helps people in this world see more of who he is.

            College was a unique time in my life filled with highs and low. One of the lows took place my freshman year. I lived in a dorm my freshman year at LSU. One morning, I woke up in my dorm room to go to an early class that met around 7:30am – it was Business Calculus. I wanted to eat something for breakfast before I went to class so I ate the breakfast of champions – a Pop tart. I didn’t have a toaster in my dorm room, so I put the pop tart in the microwave to heat it up. And I don’t know if it was because it was so early in the morning and I was half asleep or what, but instead of putting the pop tart in the microwave for just a few seconds I put the pop tart in there for a few minutes, and I forgot about it. Suddenly, I started smelling something burning. And I was like, “My pop tart!” And I rushed to the microwave and grabbed the pop tart out of the microwave. However, the pop tart had been in the microwave for so long and burned so much that when I opened the microwave, all of this smoke started coming out and my whole dorm room started filling up with smoke. Then the unthinkable happened. There was so much smoke in my room that it set off the fire alarm for the ENTIRE building. I panicked. I was like, “OH NO!” This blaring alarm reverberated through the entire building. It was so early in the morning and I was one of the few students in the building who was awake at this point. I didn’t know what to do, so I ran outside of the building and I was like, “Oh God, what do I do? What do I do?” The fire alarm was still blaring and it was so loud you could hear it outside. I was so embarrassed and so scared of all the backlash I would receive from all the people who were still asleep in the building. And then all these students started exiting the building, one by one, still wearing their pjs, rubbing their eyes because they were tired, dazed and confused. We had practiced fire drills occasionally in our building so students knew what to do, but we never had fire drills this early. The students began gathering outside and they were angry, “Why is the fire alarm going off this early in the morning? Who set the fire alarm off?” they asked. And I was like “Yea, who set the fire alarm off? That idiot! Imbecile.”

            That was definitely one of the lows of college and one of the most embarrassing moments of my life. But God is a really creative God who can even use knuckleheads like me who burn pop tarts and set fire alarms off. And one of the highs of college was when I invited Christ into my heart for the first time in my life. I grew up going to church with my family but I only went because my family went. I had no interest in God or my faith. In college, I had a friend name Phil who was a Christian. I thought Christianity was really boring and unattractive. I thought going to church was lame and for losers and I thought it just about following a whole bunch of rules. I saw the church as this rigid and dry institution and I was really curious why my friend Phil was so involved in his church. I literally asked my friend Phil, “What do you guys do??” not understanding why he and his church members would go to church. But then Phil told me about salvation. He told me how having a relationship with God was not about a bunch of do’s and don’ts, it wasn’t about being a perfect person or trying to clean yourself up to earn right standing with God, but that if I just invited Jesus into my life and heart, I could be saved and I could have a relationship with him, and that’s it! And I was like, “Huh. I don’t have to be a perfect person? I can just ask Jesus to come into my life and he will and I can have eternal life? That sounds easy. I think I can try that.” And later that night, I went back to my dorm room and made a simple prayer and asked Jesus to come into my heart and life. And God completely changed me and gave me a love for him and a desire to follow him. He really did a number on me too, changing me from this young guy who was a complete knucklehead in the world to someone who is still a knucklehead today but who loves Jesus.

            Because of my unique journey of coming to faith and specifically the truncated and inaccurate view of God and the Church that I had before I started following Jesus, I’m very passionate about those in this world who might have a similar view of God as I had before coming to faith. Like myself before I came to faith, many people view the Christian God as this condemning, rigid, dry, and boring God, this guy with long beard who’s cold and distant shaking his head from heaven and just looking to see when you and I do something wrong. Sadly, many people see God’s people in a similar way seeing Christians as judgmental, hypocritical, rigid, and out of touch with the world and society. But this is not who God is. I believe God is dynamic, creative, cool, beautiful, spontaneous, and even fun. I believe God wants the world to know that you can see him not only in the Bible or in the pews of a church but iyou can see him in things like innovation, creativity, technology, art and culture, music, movies, food, sports, the list goes on and on. God wants people to know that he’s not cold and distant, but rather he’s gracious and loving, he meets us where we are, and is even willing to lay down his life for us. Similarly, God’s people don’t have to be viewed as judgmental or hypocritical, but we can be seen as loving, kind, compassionate, relational, and servant-like. God wants to give people a new perspective of who he is. And he wants to use YOU! He desires to use you as his agents of change, like his divine special agents.

            Today, we’re going to be focusing on a passage from the book of 2 Corinthians. The books of 1 and 2 Corinthians were letters written by the Apostle Paul to the Corinthian Christians. Paul was formerly a Pharisee who used to persecute Christians. But in a miracle, one day Paul had an encounter with the risen Jesus and this changed Paul’s life to where eventually he started to tell others about Jesus and how Jesus was God. If you’re here today or watching online and you’ve said “yes” to Jesus, my hope is today will inspire you and help you to reflect on the agent of change that you want to be in as a representative of Jesus in this world. And if you’re here today or watching online and just checking things out or exploring, my hope is you’ll have an open mind and heart about who God is and who his people are despite whatever experiences and preconceived notions you might have of God and his people. Today, we’ll look at how God invites us to be Agents of the Good News, how as God’s agents we represent him, and lastly how we should be willing to go to and engage with those who don’t know him because of what Christ did for us. In 2 Corinthians 5:18, Paul says,

All this is God’s doing, for he has reconciled us to himself through Jesus Christ; and he has made us agents of the reconciliation. God was in Christ personally reconciling the world to himself—not counting their sins against them—and has commissioned us with the message of reconciliation. J.B. Phillips New Testament

            God is a loving God who is on a holy mission to redeem and restore this broken world and bring humanity whom he loves back to him. And God invites us to be a part of this mission and to play a special role in it—He invites us to be his Agents  Agents of the Good News  , agents of change, agents of his love, forgiveness, goodness and what he has done through his Son Jesus to restore his relationship with people. *What do you think this shows us about God? What do you think this shows us about God’s character? I think it shows us just how loving, humble, and generous God is. Do you think God needs us to be his agents? No.* But because of his character and his goodness, he humbly lets us be a part of the special work he is doing by being agents of change and messengers of his love. **I once had to deliver something to someone halfway across the world. My brother Josh used to work and live in Stavanger, Norway. My brother’s girlfriend at the time, who is now his fiancée, also lived there, and eventually my brother decided he wanted to propose. But it was hard for my brother to find a diamond ring in Norway, so he had to purchase a ring here in the U.S. and ship it to Norway. But because Norway imposed expensive taxes on items like diamond rings that were shipped into the country, if my brother were to ship the ring into the country. So my brother called and asked me if I’d be willing to fly to Norway and deliver his engagement ring to him if he were to purchase my plane ticket over there. I told him yes. I was like, “Especially if you’re going to pay for my plane ticket! Of course I’ll come to Norway!” In the moment though, I wasn’t thinking about how diamond rings are pretty valuable items. And I was like, “Wait a second.”  It then dawned on me that I would be responsible for getting this ring safely to my brother so he could propose. I was like, “Wait, how far is Baton Rouge from Norway? Whoa…whoa…I ain’t carrying that thing with me to Norway. I don’t want to be responsible for that.

            That was the most stressful plane ride of my life. Plane ride(s) actually. I’d be like somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, I’d have to get up and walk around the cabin but I didn’t want to leave the ring in my seat, so I’d put it in my pocket and bring it with me. I’d be like walking down the cabin to the restroom hyperventilating. I’d be like patting myself constantly to make sure I still had the ring. “Do I have it? Do I have it? Is it here? Ok. Phew. Still here. I’m good.” A person would walk past me and I’d be like, “Get back! I don’t have anything valuable in my pocket!” When I got off the plane and arrived in Norway, I looked all disheveled and I told my brother, **“Dude, she better say YES.”** I stayed and hung out in Norway with my brother and his fiancée for a few days. After I left, my brother proposed and she said yes.**As stressful as it was bringing my brother’s engagement ring to Norway, I felt like a kind of special messenger or deliverer on a special mission to deliver this ring to my brother and it was worth it. Similarly, each of us is a part of God’s special mission who are sent to bring the message of his love and the work he has done through his Son Jesus to the world.

            But as God’s agents, we’re not just couriers. We’re his representatives. We’re called to be like God. To represent him. Who Do You Represent? I really have an appreciation for all art forms including music, poetry, and hip-hop. The Christian hip-hop artist Lecrae has a song titled “Represent” where he talks about how now that we are in Christ, we need to live a new life and represent Christ. An excerpt from the song goes like this:

But since you came to Christ you got to bring His name Glory
No more living in the darkness, no more living heartless
‘Cause you got that Holy Spirit dwelling inside your carcass
Your life’s been changed up, rearranged up
You’ve been reborn and you don’t have to do the same stuff
You live regenerate, you get the benefit of Christ crucified
But you got to live in it, God is preeminent
And forgiveness is unlimited, but stop and…Represent.

– Lecrae

            You see, as God’s agents, we represent him. His word says he literally shows himself through us to the world. Each of us the honor of reflecting the invisible God to those who don’t yet know him. We are the body of Christ, the hands and feet and faces of the one who was willing to give up his life for the world.

We are now Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were appealing direct to you through us. As his personal representatives we say, “Make your peace with God.” J.B. Phillips New Testament

            This is a great honor, but also one that should give each of us thoughtful reflection.

Who are you representing in this world? What kind of God are you representing?

Sometimes, I feel like I represent Christ well, but there are plenty of times where I don’t represent him well. Sometimes, we might even try to represent Christ and have good intentions but fall short of representing Christ’s love well.

After God changed my life in college and I came to faith, I became this young man who was passionate about evangelism and telling my friends about God and wanting them to experience what I had experienced. But I didn’t go about this in the most loving way. I started to judge my friends and look down on them. I stopped seeing them as friends and started to see them as sinners. I totally abandoned our relationships and friendships. I began to see them as a project. And because of this, my relationships with these friends were hurt and I wasn’t the best witness of Christ and his love.

Yes, I was young and a little naive. And God can use our flawed and less than perfect efforts for good. Absolutely. But what I learned from experiences like this is that although the message we as God’s representatives have to share is important, it’s also important how we go about sharing that message. And if God wants to give people in this world a new perspective of who he is as a God who’s not condemning and rigid but one who’s loving and gracious and relatable, maybe the way that we share the gospel message and relate to people who don’t know him can directly impact and change how people in this world view him. Jesus told us the second greatest commandment was to

“Love your neighbor as yourself.” Mark 12:31 NIV

Similarly, in 1 Corinthians 13, Paul says,

 “If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.” 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 NLT

            We can have all the knowledge in the world, know all the theology, have all the advanced degrees in the world, amazing faith, even do “good deeds”… But if you don’t love and if you don’t live your life out of love, you’re just a ringing gong and a clanging symbol, Paul says. In 1 John 3:18 it says,

“18 Beloved children, our love can’t be an abstract theory we only talk about, but a way of life demonstrated through our loving deeds.” 1 John 3:18 Passion Translation

            We share the gospel by sharing our faith with those who don’t know Jesus, but also through our loving actions and deeds, by how we treat people, and by developing relationships and friendships with those who don’t know Jesus. This is not about manipulation but about truly loving people with our whole lives. And many of you do an amazing job of this. The word Evangelism is a term for sharing the gospel with people or with those who don’t yet know Jesus. The word evangelism may bring up mixed feelings for some of us. For some of you, the word ‘evangelism’ may spring up positive feelings and bring up positive memories like a time where you had a sweet conversation with a friend where you were able to share what Christ did for them. For others, the word ‘evangelism’ may bring up negative feelings – for ex., you might think of this Christian-salesman-like approach to sharing the gospel, or like a “burn and turn” approach to Christianity or even being at a sporting event where you’ve seen people holding up signs condemning bystanders to eternal damnation. But the word ‘evangel’ means ‘gospel’ or ‘good news.’ And this is where the term ‘evangelism’ comes from. Brian McLaren in his book More Ready Than You Realize says,

            “The evangelist is never coercive, pushy, combative; rather, she is patient and gentle like a midwife, knowing that the giving of life takes time and cannot be rushed without potentially lethal damage.”

– Brian McLaren, More Ready Than You Realize

            When I was younger, I used to think everybody could have a conversion experience like I had where I was changed almost overnight. But one of the most valuable things I’ve learned when it comes to evangelism is that for many people coming to faith is a process. Not everyone has a Paul-like conversion experience. Actually, most people don’t. And as God’s people who should be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” I believe this should inform the way we choose to interact and engage with those who don’t yet know Jesus and how we love them. Dr. Richard Peace, Professor of Evangelism and Spiritual Formation at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, California who teaches a class called The Art of Evangelism said in his book, Conversion in the New Testament, Paul and the Twelve:

            “What might evangelism look like if we accepted the fact that for a lot of people it is a long-term process by which they come to faith in Jesus?”

– Richard Peace, Conversion in the New Testament, Paul and the Twelve

            This is why we need to love people and develop relationships with them. It’s why we need to focus not merely on sharing a message but sharing our lives. It’s why we need to share truth, but with love, gentleness, and respect. Who is that person in your life who you’ve been praying for for a long time and who you’ve been trying to lead to Christ? Keep praying for that person. Keep loving them and showing them Christ’s love.

            William Abraham in his book The Logic of Evangelism says,

            “What matters is that the good news of the kingdom be transmitted with flair and in culturally fitting forms.”

William Abraham, The Logic of Evangelism

            This is why I love Gateway. It’s because we try to meet people where they are. It’s why we say No Perfect People Allowed and Come As You Are. It’s why occasionally we’ll play songs from popular culture on Sundays, why we’ve had someone in our lobby on Christmas Eve dressed in a Grinch costume, why we play Will Ferrell clips and funny videos in our loop before service. We want to meet people where they are. We want to share Christ in ways that make sense to people who didn’t grow up going to church. We want people to know that church doesn’t have to be boring and dry, but that it can be fun and comfortable for them. In Acts 15:9, James says, “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.” Acts 15:9 NIV Who are Gentiles? That’s most of us! Those who aren’t Jewish. And as the Church, we should make it as easy as possible for those who God is turning back to him. Maybe that’s what he’s doing in you right now! And as agents of God and representatives of Christ, we can do this by being the most loving people there are and giving people a different perspective of who God is.

            I want to be clear: I’m not talking about trying to be cool or trying to make God cool. First of all, it’s not about trying to make God cool; God is cool. I’m not apologizing for saying that and I don’t mean that in a superficial way. God is cool. But I’m not talking about trying to be cool.

“John, you’re telling me I have to wear skinny jeans?”

No, that’s not what I’m saying. I do believe as agents of God we have to have a pulse on the world. Maybe you’re thinking, “But what about how the Bible says to be ‘in the world but not of the world.’ Yea, and the Bible also says, “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.” I’m not talking about presenting some kind of cheap, watered-down Christianity. Neither am I talking about sugar-coating the gospel. What we’re talking about today is meeting people where they are and loving them so we can save some, so that when we’re partying in heaven one day, there will be a few more people partying beside us. And we should be willing to go to Let’s Go! those in our world who don’t know Jesus and engage with them.

            As God’s agents, we should to be willing to go outside of our comfort zones to those in this world who don’t know him and engage with them, love them.

Where can you go and where are you already going in your daily life here in Austin where you can be a representative of Jesus?

We don’t always have to go far! Look at where God has already placed you! God is bringing so many people here to Austin. Look around you to see who are those who need his love. Who are those in your workplaces, your circle of friends, your neighborhoods who need Jesus? Here at Gateway, we talk about loving everyone ‘Life by Life’ and ‘BLESSing’ our neighbors which is like our term for evangelism. Who can you love and BLESS? Who can you invite to Gateway on a Sunday or online, to one of our classes, events, community groups? A great place to invite people to here at Gateway is a class called Alpha. Alpha is a 9-week course designed for people who are exploring God and to create a space for them to ask questions about God, life, and faith with others. In the middle of February, we’ll be offering Alpha courses at some of our different campuses which you can register for online. Stay tuned for more info about Alpha in the weeks to come.

            God is on a mission; we serve a missionary God. And he has commissioned us to play a special role in his mission by serving as his agents. As his agents, we need to be willing to meet people where they are, be thoughtful and intentional in sharing the love of Christ with them and sharing our lives with them, and be willing to go to them, engage, and build relationships with them. Why? Because of what Jesus did for us.  

            You see, God created the world and humanity, but humanity became broken and needed someone to rescue them. So God came to rescue them. And he didn’t tell us to come up to him. He came down to us. He meet us where we were. He came down to earth. Literally. And more than that, he became one of us. His name was Jesus. And then Jesus lived among us and shared life with us. And then he paid the penalty for our sins by dying on a cross. And he was raised from the dead so that if you just believed in him and put your faith in him, you could be made right with God forever.

For God caused Christ, who himself knew nothing of sin, actually to be sin for our sakes, so that in Christ we might be made good with the goodness of God. J.B. Phillips New Testament

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