Once more into the fray,
Into the last good fight I’ll ever know.
Live and die on this day,
Live and die on this day.
— poem from the 2011 film The Grey
John Perkins said it right,
“Love is the final fight.”
— The Sound by Switchfoot
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends…”
— John 15:13
Late one evening in Iquitos, Peru, we were sitting in a loud, open-air restaurant with a young missionary couple as they spoke of their love for Christ while jostling their tired, restless little boy back and forth between them. Strangely, Switchfoot’s The Sound was playing overhead somewhere as we were riveted by the young man’s story of salvation and transformation. It was the end of our third day on mission. On the edge of the Amazon River it was hot — blazing hot — and humid. Our days were long, steamy, filthy and still. So still. It was the stillness that could push you over the edge into boiling insanity. “A breeze, a small breeze, please God,” I would often hear myself saying. Yet I was a temporary visitor. In 10 days, my tour would be up. But the young, American missionary couple had made it their life’s dream to speak of the love of Christ in this area. There was no reprieve for them, nor did they pray for one.
Through their story, we learned that this young couple was once the typical, American partying type. Both grew up in bored, middle-class affluence, trying to get their thrills in all of the stereotypical wrong ways. Today, they reach out to the poor and destitute of the slums of Belen, the addicted in the drug holes of Iquitos, and children left orphaned in homes for those rescued from the sex trade industry. They fill their lives and their church with those who come empty handed and desperate.
Why? What happened?
Somewhere in their partying, through friends, they came to believe that God’s love for them was true and that this love was exampled in the work of Jesus Christ. And with this knowledge came a revelation: nothing else could be more important. If God created us for his purpose and provided a way for us to follow him, not only in this life but into eternity, then what else could be more important? What could be more important than spreading this truth? We all know this, but we’re not all ready to go all-in for this knowledge. It’s hard. Giving your life to Christ completely and taking up his work is a lot of trouble. It is a lot of change. And you may end up in uncomfortable places like drug holes and orphanages, befriending and loving broken, shattered people.
But what could be more beautiful? For in Christ we are all brought to fullness.
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?c And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”
— Romans 10:14–15
We are sent. We should go. Because there can be nothing of more importance than the love of Jesus Christ.
Love is the final fight.
When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
— Luke 19:5–7
Salvation had come to Zacchaeus, and he immediately and joyously welcomed Jesus while scornful onlookers passed judgment.
In many ways, these different responses are a picture of what happens in our own lives. We are faced daily with the decision to be joyful or judgmental. We can be messengers of grace and blessing, or we can convey a contemptuous and disapproving arrogance. We can put ourselves in a position to have an encounter with Jesus and then respond to him with exuberance, or we can stand by murmuring and watch as he uses other people who choose to be about his business.
The description of Zacchaeus welcoming Jesus “gladly” (chairon) is significant. The word literally means “rejoicing”. Luke uses this word and the noun (chara) nine times in his gospel to emphasize a joyous response to faith and salvation. Zacchaeus understood the proper response to an invitation from Jesus.
But he doesn’t stop there. He pledges to repay fourfold anyone whom he had wrongly taxed as their collector, as well as giving half of what he owned to the poor. Zacchaeus pledged allegiance to a new way of living. His actions mirrored his new faith.
To the contrary, the mumbles in the crowd smacked of predisposed bias and callous judgment, and perhaps a tinge of jealousy. We must guard against the tendency to be part of the unresponsive, critical, mumbling masses.
Will you choose to be delighted today over the fact that Jesus has invited us to enjoy salvation? Will you pour grace into the lives of others, or will you stand by in dismissive judgment? Will you live “gladly” today?
Then my soul will rejoice in the Lord and delight in his salvation.
— Psalm 35:9
Zaccheus was a hated, greedy tax collector who made his wealth by extorting from fellow Jews. One day, he heard that Jesus was passing through his town. He had heard so much about this man and the miraculous things he was doing, he wanted to get a closer look at who he was. Being small in stature, he climbed a tree to see over the crowd surrounding Jesus. Spotting Zaccheus in the tree, Jesus invited himself over to the man’s house.
And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.”
— Luke 19:5
Scripture doesn’t say what was going through Zaccheus’ mind, but I imagine that he hopped down from the tree excitedly, pushed his way back through the crowd, and ran home just in time to greet Jesus, out of breath with a grin that stretched from ear to ear.
Although the conversation that ensued is unclear, by the end, Zaccheus had received salvation and proclaimed that he would give half of his goods to the poor, and restore any wrongdoing fourfold. One thing is certain: Jesus sought him out. Sure, Zaccheus climbed the tree, but Jesus invited himself in to the man’s life.
I think if we’re honest with ourselves, we do not seek God. We are too distracted with our lives — Zaccheus by his wealth, some by their jobs, and others by the entanglement of sin. But there is comfort at the end of this story:
“For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.”
— Luke 19:10
He begins seeking us before we start trying to find him.
“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide…”
— John 15:16
I think this much is made clear in the Garden of Eden. As soon as Adam and Eve committed the first sin, they ran and hid themselves from the presence of God. But God asked, “Where are you?” He knew, yet he sought them.
So where are you? It’s time to climb that tree, and see God face to face.
I’m not much of a traveler. Growing up, my family didn’t take too many trips or vacations, and I was fine with that. I’m one of those people who is almost completely content in whatever environment I find myself. Traveling gives me anxiety, because I like to know every little detail that is planned, and if anything is ever just a tiny bit off, you’ll see me frantically running around because we’re the smallest bit off schedule.
Throughout high school, I had the opportunity to go on many mission trips with c|Life, with domestic destinations, such as Dallas and New Mexico, as well as international locations, like Guatemala. Like I said, traveling gives me anxiety, and these trips were no exception. I loved those trips so much, however the nerves were still there.
If I ever found myself bugging out, I would think about the reason I was there: to share the gospel. Now, I don’t know why that calmed me down, but it did. It got me excited to be a part of something so much bigger, an opportunity God had given me to play a tiny role in his big picture. It got me excited, whether working in food pantries in Dallas, painting houses in New Mexico, or teaching Bible stories in Guatemala.
We know that this was what Jesus was all about. We know that he served a purpose while walking the earth, which was to tell people who he was and what he was there to do. He knew that there was another place that he would call home, but there was a mission to accomplish while here. We see that mission clearly in Luke 19:
For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.
— Luke 19:10
We get to be a part of this. He has called us to play a role. We are told to tell others. We are told to make disciples, to go beyond the walls of the places we currently are and to tell others about the life we have received because of the life that was given for us.
But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!”
— Romans 10:14–15
How beautiful are the feet of the messengers who bring good news! In case you missed it, we’re the messengers. We’re the people who get to spread the good news. We’re the ones who are called to tell others. While this place is not our home, but a temporary place we reside, we have a mission to accomplish, just like Jesus.
Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience. We are not commending ourselves to you again but giving you cause to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast about outward appearance and not about what is in the heart. For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
— 2 Corinthians 5:11 - 21
As author Steven Covey has said, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” All of us, if we are not careful, run the risk of mission drift in our lives. High school students can get so caught up in extra-curricular activities that they don’t pay attention to the actual curriculum. An engaged couple can spend so much time preparing for the wedding that they forget to prepare for the marriage. We can get so caught up taking our kids places that we don’t have time to actually know our kids! If we are not careful, it’s easy to lose track of the main thing.
Churches are no different. There is actually a lot of good stuff that a church can be involved in doing. Churches can provide social opportunities. Churches can work to bring about justice. Churches can teach life-changing truth and help people make better decisions.
But when the rubber meets the road, the church is, first and foremost, to be about proclaiming the gospel to a lost and dying world. Jesus made this much clear in his three years of public ministry. He was on a mission. He didn’t have to take any polls or ask for any input as to how he should live his life or invest his time and energy. Jesus was clearly on a mission to lay down his life for the world.
As a church, that is what we are to be about. We are to be fanatical about introducing the lost to Jesus and teaching them how to follow him. This is our mission as a church.
Interestingly enough, this will not be the main thing at c|Life when we talk about it on Sunday mornings or sing songs about it. This will only truly be the main thing at c|Life when it is the main thing in the lives of the people of c|Life. So as the people of c|Life and, more importantly, the people of God, let’s keep the main thing the main thing. Let’s live in the light of the grace of God and spend our days alert to the needs of the people around us, sensitive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and bold to proclaim the message that Jesus saves!