SERMON ON THE MOUNT: Standing in the Gap  Matthew 7:7-12

I grew up in an era where we didn’t wear helmets for everything that was even a little bit dangerous, therefore, we had the chance to play games on the playground that mattered.  One of those games was entitled “Red Rover.”  Red Rover is a game where you link arms with other people and there’s other people across from you with linked arms as well, and you say, “Red rover, red rover, send Ryan right over.”  When your name’s called, you have to run and try your best to break through the human chain that’s on the other side, without getting captured.  I’ve found that there’s two types of people in life — there are people who love to hear their name called in “Red Rover,” and there are people who hate to hear their name called in “Red Rover.”

I think life is a little bit like “Red Rover.”  I think life in the kingdom of God can feel a little bit like “Red Rover.”  If you’ve been here the last few months, here’s what you’ve heard Jesus invite you to so you live life knowing that you’re blessed regardless of your circumstances.  You live life, in the kingdom of God, becoming more and more free from anger; becoming more and more free from lust; becoming more and more honest about who you are—the good things about you, the shortcomings you have.  You live in the kingdom learning to love your enemies instead of persecuting them, to bless people instead of cursing them—people that do you wrong.  You learn how to live a life of prayer.  You learn how to be a non-anxious presence in the world.  You learn how to trust your Good Father for everything that you need.  You begin to learn not to judge the people around you, but to be for them.

Then Jesus releases you into the world and he says, “Go!  Be salt and light.”  And there’s two types of people—there’s people that want to be salt and light and they want to bowl everybody over, don’t they?  They’ve got the truth and they want you to hear it.  Red rover, red rover, send Ryan right over.  They’re like yes and amen, let’s do this.  Then there’s people who sort of want to sit back a little bit more, maybe even want to sit on their hands, and they go, “If I could be silent salt and silent light, that would be great!  I’m going to choose that and I’m not going to engage much with the world around me.”  I don’t know if either of those options is the option that Jesus would choose.  In fact, I’m confident that neither of them work because they don’t reflect the life that He lived and they don’t reflect the life that He invites you and I to live either.  There’s this tension, isn’t there?  How do we live in the kingdom of God?  How do we live interacting with the people around us?  The people around us who wrong us?  The people around us who do us wrong—the family, the neighborhood, the friends that we’re just at odds with sometimes?  Do we bowl them over?  Or do we sit on our hands and do nothing?  Hold our tongue?

Jesus would say there’s a third way.  Open your Bible to Matthew 7:7-12.  He’s going to talk about this third way.  This section that we’re going to be looking at flows directly out of the section we studied last week.  If you weren’t here, let me give you a one minute synopsis from last week.  Jesus says do not judge.  We said there’s two definitions of that word ‘judge.’  One definition means simply to discern.  To see something as right or wrong, or to identify what a thing in front of you is.  That’s a judgment.  That’s not the type of judgment Jesus is talking about.  We make those kind of judgments all the time.  In fact, you can’t read the Sermon on the Mount without having a lens towards discernment.  Some things are better than others, Jesus says.  The judgment Jesus talks about, though, is when we take the gavel and we look somebody else in the eye and we don’t just say you’re wrong about this, we say you’re wrong period, and we say you’re condemned, you’re guilty.  What Jesus says is that’s not a way to live where you embody the kingdom.  He ends that section by saying, “Don’t give to dogs what is sacred and don’t throw your pearls to pigs.”  Now, are pearls a good thing?  Valuable, right?  What can pigs do with pearls though?  Not a whole lot.  Pearls are good, but pigs can’t do anything with them.  What Jesus wants to say to you and I is it is great to say true things, but don’t just say true things, say true things that are also helpful.  Live in the way of wisdom.  Be discerning about the world around you.

Then He jumps right into this passage.  Before we go there, my guess is that most people in this room have heard this passage taught a certain way.  What I’d like you to do is try to come to the text with fresh eyes, because I don’t think it’s about what you think it’s about.  Matthew 7:7-12 — Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.  Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?  If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.  Ask. Seek. Knock.

How many of you have been taught that this is about prayer?  Ask, seek, knock.  I certainly have.  Here’s the only problem with that—-verses 1-12 are one thought from Jesus.  Verse 1—He says do not judge.  Verse 12—He gives you the opposite of being a judgmental presence in the world.  Do to others as you would have them do to you.  It’s this thread that Jesus is pulling through this teaching.  I don’t think verses 7 and 8 are about prayer.  I don’t think it’s about asking God.  I think it’s actually an approach we take to other people that Jesus is talking about.  Before you put your Bible in your pocket and go no, this is about prayer and I’m out of here, Paulson, let me say that there are portions of this passage that are about prayer.  But the primary thrust is about the way that you interact with the people around you, the way that you treat the people around you, and the presence that you carry into your workplace, into your neighborhood, and into your family.  If I could summarize these twelve verses, with a little help from my friend Dallas Willard, here’s what I would say:  Instead of trying to control and condemn people with our judgments and pearls (our wisdom), we approach them in humility, while simultaneously standing before our Good Father with our requests for them.  This passage, I believe, is about how to be released into a red rover world, where we don’t just bowl over the people around us and we don’t just sit on our hands and zip our mouth and keep quiet, it’s about how to be a kingdom presence in our world.  These verses, specifically, I might summarize as:  We navigate the tension of life in two kingdoms through thoughtful interaction and bold intercession.  Thoughtful interaction with the people around us, and bold intercession to the God who is for us.

Look at this passage again with me because I think there’s going to be some things that start to stand out.  Remember, Jesus has just talked about operating in a way of wisdom, not just giving people things that are true, but looking at who they are and where they are and what’s going on in their life.  He says listen, don’t throw your pearls before pigs; it’s good, it’s valuable, but they can’t do anything with them.  Then He goes DIRECTLY into this passage:  Ask, Seek, Knock.  Without the heading, it just flows one into the other (verse 7) — Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  Jesus is talking, I believe, about the way that we interact with the people around us.  He goes in sort of ascending order of urgency.  If someone’s right in front of you, ask them questions.  If someone is not near you, is distant from you, seek them out.  If there’s a wall or a door between you and someone else—which if you’ve ever lived in a family or had friendships, you know that has a tendency to happen sometimes, yes?  Jesus says when it does…knock.  Don’t break down the door and force yourself in.  Knock.  That’s how you operate, that’s how you interact in the world around you.  You humbly pursue others.  That’s what a kingdom ethic and a kingdom life looks like.

Let’s take each one of these and ask a few questions about it; dissect these a little bit.  Ask — When people are in close proximity to you, ask.  Asking is different than forcing yourself in, is it not?  Asking allows you to stand with somebody rather than against somebody.  Asking isn’t a debate.  Asking is a communal seeking after what’s true.  Don’t picture yourself on the other side of the line; picture yourself with your arm right next to and around the other.  I love the way Dallas Willard put it:  “Asking is the great law of the spiritual world through which things are accomplished in cooperation with God and yet in harmony with the freedom and worth of every individual.”  There is great power in asking.  In asking questions.  You know who knows this?  Your kids!  They did a study and found out that 4-year-olds ask 437 questions every single day.  I read the study twice just to be sure they didn’t mean before breakfast!  {Can I get an amen?!}  Sometimes our kids ask so many questions, Kelly and I are like….I can’t…we just can’t anymore!  We give up!  But our kids know that there’s power in questions.  I love the way John Maxwell, the great leadership guru, put it:  “Good questions inform, but great questions transform.”

You know who knew this?  Jesus.  If you were to do a study and you were to take the four Gospels written about Jesus’s life and you were to take a month and read through them and write down every time Jesus asks a question, in four accounts of Jesus’s life, you would find over 300 questions that He asked.  Questions like….  To the disciples—Why are you so afraid? (Matthew 8:26)  To Peter:  Who do you say that I am? (Matthew 16:15)  To the disciples:  Do you believe? (Matthew 21:22)  To James and John:  What do you want me to do for you? (Mark 10:36)  To the Rich Man: Why do you call me good? (Luke 18:19)  Let’s have a conversation about goodness.  To John’s disciples:  What are you looking for? (John 1:38)  To the Samaritan Woman: Will you give me a drink? (John 4:7)  To the woman caught in the act of adultery:  Who condemns you? (John 8:10)  To the paralytic:  Do you want to get well? (John 5:6)

Question:  How many of those questions does Jesus not know the answer to?  Let’s try this on for size.  He knows the answer to every single question.  Why in the world does he spend most of his ministry responding to questions with other questions and speaking into what seems to be clear questions?  I was taught in seminary that a good sermon is one people walk away from with clarity.  You know who’d disagree with that?  Jesus!  Most people walked away from his teaching going, “I’m not sure what to do with that.”  I don’t have a category to put that in.  It seems as though Jesus was way more interested in the conversation than He was in clarity, because here’s what He knows:  Truth imposed will never be truth received.  If you have kids that you want to learn to love and follow Jesus…..say it with me, “Truth imposed will not be truth received.”

So maybe, just maybe, we have to get a little bit better at asking questions.  Eric Nevins, one of our former elders, hosts a podcast show where he interviews different people, called “Halfway There.”  One time on Facebook he posted this question to his listening audience:  What’s the best question you’ve ever been asked?  I thought, “That’s a great….that might be the best question I’ve ever been asked.”  Somebody from our church responded, “The best question I’ve ever been asked is who are you?”  Another person from our community said, “If you could live without fear, what would you do?”  Another person asked, “Where’s the beef?”  I don’t know what you do with that one.  What if we got a lot better at asking questions?  Who are you?  If you weren’t afraid, what would you do?   Maybe we got better at asking questions of other people—people that maybe had a different perspective of faith.  Maybe we start it by just asking what they think.  Maybe we follow that question up with this great question:  How did you come to that conclusion?  Without putting them down, but just opening yourself up.  Here’s the deal:  You might learn something.  You’ll certainly learn something about them.  You might learn something about God.  What if we followed that up with:  If what you believe is true, would the world be a better place?  See how questions could be a thread that you start to ask somebody and they start to open people up?  Jesus knew that.  Ask he says.

What if we got better at asking ourselves questions?  What if we got better at asking ourselves things like:  Am I becoming more approachable to people?  Am I becoming more aware of the people around me?  Am I becoming more of a listening presence?  Do I appreciate people?  Do I say thank you?  Who am I becoming? What if you got better at asking yourself those questions?  Jesus says ASK.  It’s one of the laws just woven into the cosmos….ASK!

Then he says SEEK.  Seek people that are just out of reach.  There’s great power in questions and there’s great power in presence.  Seek people out.  It’s easier to be preoccupied than it is to be present, isn’t it?  In Jesus’s day, there was a dividing wall between Jews and Greeks, and it made a vacuum (a chasm) between them that couldn’t be crossed.  If Jesus were to say the same thing today, I think he would say that there’s a great chasm of technology.  Your phones often stand between you!  You’re tweeting and texting people that are miles away, and yet the person right in front of you is often ignored.  Seek. . . .become present where you are.  You can be some place and not be there, you know that, right?  From infancy, our bodies tell us we were wired for connection, so moms and dads look at a baby and they establish what psychologists call “attunement,” where they just start to have a resonance between them and life is given to this child just by looking at them.  The same thing happens as we get older.  You can establish connection, you can seek after people, just by showing up.  Showing up at a play, showing up at a game, showing up at a concert.  We want to be wanted.  It’s where our hearts start to open up.  That’s true in marriages, it’s true in friendship, it’s true in life.  Friends, before you speak up. . . .SHOW up.

It’s what Jesus is saying. . . .SEEK.  It’s the way He interacts with us.  When asked what his mission was, Jesus says His mission is to seek and to save the lost. (Luke 19:10)   Paul goes on to write that while we were yet enemies of God, He loved us and gave himself up for us. (Romans 5:8)  He has been seeking after you since the day that you were born.  That’s good news!  He’s saying, “Just emulate the way that I’ve gone after you.”  Seek as opposed to judging or condemning.  Seek as opposed to giving up.  Seek as opposed to ignoring.  Seek people, be present with them.

Finally, He says KNOCK.  Where there’s separation of some kind, ask for the invitation in.  We live in a broken world, and our goal is not to avoid the darkness.  Our goal is not to just say, “Red rover, red rover, send Ryan right over.”  I’m so glad you called my name!  But rather, it’s to bring light, to bring hope, to bring into the pain.  Jesus models this for us in Revelation 3:20, where he says to the church at Laodicea:  Behold, I stand at the door and knock.  As opposed to the Roman soldiers who demanded hospitality.  When they came to your door, they could beat it down, and you had to bring them in, you had to give them a place to stay, you had to give them a meal.  Jesus says that’s not the way I operate.  I’m inviting you to invite me in.  What Jesus knows is what Soren Kierkegaard, the great Danish philosopher, wrote years and years later:  “All the power in the world cannot unlock the door to the human heart.  It must be opened from the inside.”  So we ask for permission rather than lobbing truth bombs.  We love as a way to influence.  That’s the way that we stand in this middle ground, not bowling people over and not just zipping our mouth and sitting on our hands.  We ask and we seek and we knock.

If you’re looking for some resources this week, can I recommend two books to you?  One is called The Allure of Gentleness by Dallas Willard.  You may pick up that I’m sort of fond of him.  I think he’s brilliant.  It’s an approach to evangelism and apologetics that’s both witty and brilliant and respectful of the people you interact with.  That’s how Jesus interacted with people.  The second book that I think is really engaging and interesting is called Questioning Evangelism: Engaging People’s Hearts the Way Jesus Did by Randy Newman.  Jesus engaged people’s hearts by asking questions.  Both those books may be a great way for you to start asking, seeking and knocking in the lives of other people that you have the chance to interact with.

Some of you are going, okay, Paulson, that part I can get on board with, but what do you do with Matthew 7:9? Let’s go there.  Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?   {It’s a rhetorical question.  Who would do that?  No one.  Pause.  Some of you have a narrative going on in your head where you go well, I know some fathers who are really evil, who have done bad things.  I know there are some people in this room. . . .you have been deeply wounded by parents in your life—parents who have let you down.  The reason that feels so wrong for us and the reason we push back against these words of Jesus, I think actually validate his argument.  We go that’s messed up.  That’s wrong.  That’s contrary to the way that we were created.  I think our rebuke of that actually validates Jesus’s argument, where we go yeah, you’re right.  Who would do that, and if somebody did we’d say that’s messed up.}  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?  If you, then, though you are evil,  {though you’re broken, though you’re wicked, though you’re messed up}  know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

Here’s what Jesus does.  Remember, it’s in the context of judgment and how we interact with the people around us.  What Jesus does is give you this principle—ask, seek, knock—and then He gives you an illustration of the power of asking, and seeking, and knocking.  He says listen, it works with God; might it work with everyone else?  What Jesus is talking about here in the context of this passage, I believe, is intercession.  We stand in the middle of these two worlds—the kingdom world and the empire world.  The world that we long for and that’s here and that we have to choose, and the world that’s natural and everywhere around us and people wrong us and hurt us and it’s broken and it’s painful and we have questions.   We stand in the middle of both of those worlds with this confidence that God is present.  That God’s here.  That He loves us.  That He’s good. {Look up at me for just a moment.}  When I believe that God is present, that He hears and that He’s good, I don’t need to control all the people and the circumstances around me.  I don’t need to lob my judgments.  I can simply step back and ask and seek and knock with the conviction that God is at work.

Here’s what Jesus is not saying in this passage.  Jesus is not saying, “If you pray for something, you’re automatically going to get it.”  You only have to live long enough, or pray enough prayers, or bury enough people young who you deeply love, to know that’s not true.  And if you think it’s true, do an experiment for me.  This week, will you pray for a Rolls Royce?  Not just for you, pray for one for me also!  No, no, that’s not what Jesus is saying.  You may have heard it taught that way.  It’s not what He’s saying.  Can we just for a moment take a step back and say, “Praise God!” that’s not what he’s saying.  Because how many of us, if we knew we got everything we prayed for, would keep praying?  That’s a great burden to bear, is it not?  To think that you’re wiser than God, so anything you ask for He has to give you.  How many of you thank God for unanswered prayers?  Yeah.  No, no, if we believe that God is powerful enough to say yes—lean in for a second—we must also believe He’s wise enough to know whether or not He should.  Not even Jesus got everything He prayed for.  Take that in!  That’s not what Jesus is saying.

What is Jesus saying?  Jesus is saying God loves giving good gifts to his kids.  Every time you see a father or a mother delight in giving something good to their kids, they’re reflecting God in heaven.  He loves giving good things to his kids.   About four years ago, Ethan was just about to turn five years old.  We were on a little bit of a budget that year and he wanted one of these toy ATVs.  We found one on Craig’s List.  We found one in Castle Rock and went and got it and cleaned it all up and charged up the battery.  He opened it on Christmas morning and was beside himself!  Oh my goodness, mom and dad, thank you so much!!    He got on it, in the snow in the backyard, and started to go around the backyard.  He made it around maybe half the backyard.  The battery gave out and the back wheel stopped working.  I was like, “Ha! Gotcha!!”  NO, I WASN’T!  I’m not an evil father!  Kelly and I were both like. . . .oh my gosh! In order to save a few bucks, we went the cheap route and gave him something that was garbage, and now he’s heart broken.  There was nothing in us that went ha! ha! so glad you’re disappointed this Christmas; that’s what I had in mind.  NO! No!  If we love giving good gifts to our kids—and we do—how much more does our perfect heavenly Father love giving good gifts to His.  We can have confidence in our God and it frees us from having to control the people around us.  I don’t need to force things, I don’t need to be the savior, and I don’t need to be the judge, I can just stand in this nebulous in between; not having to bowl my way over people and not having to just sit on my hands and zip my mouth shut, but saying to God, “God, work, please.  Move, please. Do something, please.”  I’ll keep asking and I’ll keep seeking and I’ll keep knocking on their door, believing God, that you are at work.

So His illustration about asking, seeking, knocking is about prayer.  I love the way Dallas Willard defined prayer: “Prayer is talking with God about what we are doing together.”  The most important spiritual task in the lives of apprentices of Jesus is to continually, throughout the day, put our attention and affection back on God.  To learn to live in such a way that we’re in communion with our heavenly Father.  Jesus says two things about your God in this text.  He says, one, your God hears.  There are no prayers that hit the ceiling that don’t make it to Him.  So just sit back for a second.  The God who reigns above the cosmos, the King of kings, the Lord of lords, calls out every star by name each evening, causes the sun to dance with joy across the sky every day—-that same God hears every prayer you pray.  Every one.  Secondly, Jesus says, that same God is good.  What Jesus wants to do in this passage is focus, not so much on the skill or the technique of praying, but on the character of the One to whom we pray.  He’s through and through.  He is good!  In fact, in the book of James (1:17) it says every good and perfect gift comes from Him.  He loves giving good gifts to His kids.

Do you know what God’s response to your prayer is?  GIVING!  Your prayer is powerful.  That’s admittedly a mystery of how that works with His sovereignty, humanity’s free will, and all that….how that all works together.  Jesus doesn’t intend to answer those questions there, only to say your prayer {look up at me a second} WORKS.  It has an impact on the world around us.  In a companion text, Luke 11:11-13, where this is a Sermon on the Plain, but a very similar teaching of Jesus, it says:  Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead?  Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?  If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!  It seems as though Jesus is saying here…when you ask you receive and you receive the greatest thing you could ever ask for.  And God says, “And that’s me!”  And you receive wisdom to know how to continue to ask and continue to seek and continue to knock when it doesn’t seem like there’s any movement.  You receive from your great God.

Let’s do a quick thought experiment.  Close your eyes for a second.  If God were to have answered every single prayer you prayed this last week, what would be different?  What would be different in your life?  What would be different in your relationships?  What would be different in His world?  Who would be influenced by your prayer? I think it’s a powerful question to ask.  Oftentimes are prayer is just a little bit too small.  If God answered every prayer, what would change?  Would the 200,000 people displaced because of massive floods in the Indian state…would that change?  What about some of the atrocities going on around the globe?  Would that change?  It’s just a question.

If you’re one of those people that are going, man, I want to grow in the discipline of prayer and how I approach God, Darrel Grassman and some people from our Watchmen prayer team are going to be doing a class on Sunday mornings starting this fall, where they’re going to sort of get into how do we become people more and more of prayer.  I’d encourage you to check that out.  Steve and Penny Schroeder are going to do a class this fall on how to live in the kingdom of God and prayer is an integral part of how to live in God’s kingdom, yes?

Here’s another thing you could do this week though.  If you want to get better, or practice, or train, in how to confidently approach God, what if you did what the Christian community has been doing for centuries?  It’s something they call fixed-hour prayer.  You could set an alarm on your phone or your watch, maybe you do it a few times throughout the day.  It’s an encouragement to just pause and pray and to remember that God hears, that He’s present.  What are you going to do?  We don’t come just to be INformed, we want to come to be TRANSformed.

Here’s how Jesus finishes this section—and it is all one section.  He says: So {So, in light of what you’ve just heard about asking, seeking, knocking and in light of what you’ve just heard about your Father who’s good in heaven, so….} in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.  See how this is a bookend to the judgment that we often lob towards people?  Jesus is having one complete thought here.  Instead of judging, how about you do this?  In EVERYTHING.  Everything in this sense means whether it’s sleeping, or eating, or going to work, or hanging out in your neighborhood, or going to the park, wherever you are, do to OTHERS.

There’s two primary words Jesus could have chosen for this word .  He could have used the word adelphos.  It means brothers.  It means your tribe.  The people who you worship with, the people who you look like, the people who you talk to often—YOUR people.  That’s not the word He chose.  There’s this other word — anthropoi.  It’s where we get our word anthropology.  It’s this idea of humanity, and that’s exactly what Jesus is talking about.  You’ve never met somebody that you were not called to love or interact with in the way that you want to be interacted with.  So in everything do to EVERYONE what you would have them do to you.

How do we live in this sort of Red Rover world where it often feels like we’ve got to pump our chest up and bowl people over?  Or our other option is to just sit on our hands.  Jesus says well, how about you humbly pursue others and confidently approach God and intentionally choose love.   What if you did that? In Jesus’s day, there were two sort of prevailing thoughts about this idea.  The first was from a really popular rabbi named Hillel, who preceded Jesus.  Here’s what Hillel taught his disciples, in line with this Golden Rule, he said:  “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor.  That is the whole Torah, while the rest is commentary.”  Notice that he’s saying a similar thing as Jesus, but what do you have to do to fulfill the command that Hillel says is the greatest?  NOTHING!  You just sit back.  You can go live sequestered in the wilderness, not interact with anybody else, and you will fulfill the law of not doing to others what you wish they wouldn’t do to you.  But when Jesus flips this on its head, He makes it active.  He says to His followers, if you’re going to be my disciples, you don’t wait for the other person to do the right thing, you don’t wait for someone to show you love, you don’t hope that things get better between you and them; you are called, as a disciple of Jesus, to actively love the people in your life and to treat them in the way that you wish that they would treat you.

The Apostle Paul says in Galatians 5:14 — For the entire law if fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  It’s the same thing Jesus says.  This sums it up, this is the Cliff Notes of the entire Old Testament.  What do you want others to do to you?  Okay, now go and do that to them.  Here’s what Jesus knows:  We love us some us!  We love ourselves.  He’s not saying that that’s not necessarily wrong all the time.  What he’s saying is you typically know how you’d want to be treated in that situation and now your goal is to treat others in the same way you wish you were treated.  So how would you want to be treated at work?  95% of leaders say they prefer to be asked questions rather than told what to do, but 50% of the time they give instructions.  How do you want to be treated?  If you cut somebody off in traffic, how do you want to be treated? I was driving our minivan the other day and I got the longest middle finger I ever received in a car—driving a MINIVAN!  If you’re responsible for a miscommunication, how do you want to be treated?  If you fail the people around you, how do you want to be treated?  If you’ve immigrated from another country, how do you want to be treated?   Jesus is saying let’s not overcomplicate this.  We have one clarifying question: How do you want to be treated?  Then go and treat the people around you that way.

As we close, let me give you one question to ask.  All of us probably have a situation in our life right now with the relationships that God has blessed us with and given us….one thing going on where we have a conflict with somebody. Who might it be?  Let’s lay this Jesus way over that question — How would you want them to respond to you?  What would you want them to do?  What would you want them to say?  When we choose love we imitate our Father in heaven and we love because he first loved us.

A few years ago, we had the chance to host a quilt show, because Carolyn Schmitt is part of a quilting society and we had good walls.  We used the walls going down our kids’ hallway.  All of these quilts were really valuable; people had put time and effort and money into them.  All of them had this “Do Not Touch” sign on every single quilt.  So my kids would go get glazed donuts before they went to Sunday school and then they touched every single quilt as they went down the hall!  I’m sorry, Carolyn.  It’s interesting, because every day we walk out into God’s hallway full of extremely valuable people, people that He loves dearly, you included.  He doesn’t want us to avoid them.  He doesn’t want us to “Red rover, red rover, barrel them right over.”  No.  He invites us to ask…to ask better questions.  He calls us to seek.  He calls us to knock.  He calls us to pray.  He calls us to love.  To reach out and touch.  The people that are difficult.  The people that are tough.  The people that are broken.  The people that are lovely.  All of them!  Period.  Mother Teresa was once asked, “What do you see when you walk around the streets of Calcutta.”  She said, “I see Jesus dressed in disguise.”  So, South Fellowship Church, here’s what I say:  Red rover, red rover, send South Fellowship right over.  But not to barrel through and not just to sit back, but to ask, seek, knock, pray, and love.

In an effort to say we don’t just want this to be about information but transformation, here’s a few practices I want to encourage you to do.  Some of them I talked about already in this message, but what might you do in light of what we’ve heard from the Scriptures today?  We want to get more and more serious about actually saying we’re going to try some of these things.  Aaron has a video camera set up in the back.  Right after the service, if you did the practices last week, or maybe one of them, and God did something in your heart or through you through them, we would love to hear your story.  It can be 30 seconds or it can be one minute, but go back right after the service and tell your story.  Maybe this week you spend a day where you don’t give your opinion unless it’s asked for.  It’s not easy.  And you practice the art of asking questions.  What if this week you practiced fixed-hour prayer one day, or maybe more.  Maybe this week you memorize Philippians 4:6-7 — Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Or maybe this week—this is a practice I learned from my friend Carolyn—maybe in the morning and the evening you read through 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 and put your name in the place of “love.”  Kelly is patient; Kelly is kind; Kelly doesn’t envy; Kelly doesn’t boast….    And the whole time you do this, you ask the Spirit of God, “Will you affirm where this is true and will you convict where it’s not and lead me in the way of righteousness?”  What are you going to do this week?

Jesus, we want to be people who live well with our feet in two different worlds.  God, we don’t want to bowl people over with the truth and God, we don’t want to just sit back and do or say nothing so, Lord, help us to ask better questions.  Help us seek people out and be present.  Help us knock and ask for an invitation into their life.  God, help us show up before we speak up.  Jesus, I pray, that all the while, we’ll be people interacting with you, living in your world, your kingdom and displaying your love.  Jesus, make us more like you, we pray.  In His name.  And all God’s people said….Amen.