Once Upon a Time …
About 2,860 years ago (approx. 846 BC) there was a terrible siege that took place at the ancient city of Samaria as they were surrounded by the entire Syrian army (see 2 Kings 6:24–7:20 for the full story). As a result of this war, there was a severe famine in the city. Food prices soared astronomically and cannibalism wasn't far away. Four lepers sitting outside the city gate decided to take a risk. There was no food in the city and if they stayed where they were they would probably die, so they decided to head to the enemy’s camp hoping for mercy. They had nothing to lose. As they reached the camp – surprise! The entire Syrian army was gone (scared away by noise from God’s sound system) and they had all the food they could ever want. After having their own private dinner party for a while they finally said to one another, “This is not right. This is a day of good news, and we aren’t sharing it with anyone! If we wait until morning, some calamity will certainly fall upon us. Come on, let’s go back and tell the people at the palace” (2 Kings 7:9. NLT). So they headed back to share the good news with the entire city. God had defeated the enemies of Israel and a radical reversal had taken place – from famine to abundance for everyone. This work of God was aided by an unlikely source - four seemingly insignificant lepers. Their story connected with the good news of God’s story and led to transformation for the entire city.
Every one of us has a story and it’s worth telling. Maybe you can relate to the four lepers. After all, we all experience the pressures and impact of external circumstances beyond our control, even it if is not sickness, war or famine. Thankfully, somewhere in our journey, most of us have discovered good news – in the person of Jesus Christ. He is ‘bread’ for our soul. He gives meaning and purpose to our lives. He saves us by his grace then begins a work of transformation in our lives.
At some stage, we have a choice: keep this good news to ourselves and keep partying with our few Christian friends OR tell others about what and who we have found. The latter is our call and God’s desire for our lives. Sri Lankan evangelist D.T. Niles once said, “Christian evangelism is like a beggar who has found bread telling others where there is bread.” It’s not right that we keep good news to ourselves.
Right now God is at work reaching out to every person on the planet with his love. By his Spirit, he is seeking to draw them to himself, intersecting with their story in meaningful ways. The apostle Paul once said that it is in God that each person lives, moves and exist, and that he is not far from any one of us (Acts 17:27-28). As our story becomes part of God’s story, he calls us to participate in his work – seeking to engage with the people around about us, intersecting with the storyline of their life. God is a God of mission; he simply calls us to join him there. His is a work of “transforming life” – of individuals, families, cities, communities and nations.
As a church we have a clear mission, which is to “raise up fervent followers of Jesus Christ who will reach out and impact communities, cities and nations for the kingdom of God.” This statement is founded on the great commandment and the great commission that Jesus gave to his disciples. It includes the twin activities of discipleship (“raise up”) and evangelism (“reach out”). Over this next season, we believe that God is calling us to a greater and stronger focus on the “reach out” aspect of our mission.
Influential American pastor Andy Stanley recently said, “Churches that grow the fastest and are the healthiest are not focused on their church members. They are outward focused." It’s not that these churches don't care for their members (they do); it’s just that they are not the primary focus. This may seem quite radical but it is simply the priority of Jesus illustrated powerfully by the story he told of a shepherd who left his 99 sheep in the wilderness to go and search for the 1 sheep who was lost (Luke 15:3-7).
CityLife Church has almost 10,000 people who call it their church home. That’s a lot of people and each person has a story of God’s work in their life, for which we are truly thankful. But we believe there are many more people to reach. As we look to the future, we have crafted a fresh vision statement that describes the direction of our church over the next 3 years. It is: “Our vision is to see over 10,000 stories of transformation by 2016.” That’s a big number – 10,000 – but every 1 in that number has a name and every name has a story and every story matters to God. We’ll be looking for creative ways to capture and share these stories as they take place.
As part of our 10,000 stories vision, we have set some specific goals for all of our congregations and ministries for the next 3 years - to see (1) more people come to faith in Christ, (2) more people being water baptized, (3) more people starting to serve with their gifts, (4) new community clients (note that the “good news” in the story of the four lepers involved physical provision not just spiritual good news; the Gospel is for the whole person), and (5) more churches planted in other nations.
This vision is all about transforming life, which is the essence of who we are and why we exist as a church family. We have integrated this theme into a new church logo, which shows a simple letter ‘C’ as a pathway inviting people into a journey of discovering faith and its life-giving effects. It’s about growth and transformation through the work of the Holy Spirit in authentic community.
Your story matters to God. He wants you to see your life as part of his plan – His story. God’s story involves every person’s story and he calls us to engage with people and be a catalyst for bringing his love and eventual transformation in people’s hearts and lives. Life is not about ME – it’s about God and others and I am happiest when those priorities are the focus of my story. May the storyline of your life find its place in the subplot of God’s bigger story this year.
Sample Discussion Questions
1. Discuss the story of the four lepers (2 Kings 6-7). What strikes you about the story? In what ways does it speak to us today?
2. Have each person share their story and where they are on their own faith journey, whether they have come to know Jesus personally or not.
3. How can we avoid getting caught up in our own private party with other Christians who have found Jesus, rather than seeing our responsibility to share good news with others?
4. After Jesus resurrection, the disciples wanted to know about when the kingdom would fully come to Israel (Acts 1:6). Jesus didn’t answer their ‘end times’ question but rather gave them a broad-reaching commission to take the good news to the world (Acts 1:7-8). What other pre-occupations and distractions do Christians get caught up with today that prevent them from engaging fully in the priority of Jesus, which is world evangelisation?
5. Conversations can be described as “verbal acts of hospitality”. In what way can our daily interaction with people enable us to enter into their story?
6. What are some creative ways that our LifeGroup can reach out to more people this year? Have a time of brain storming together, making a long list of ideas without critiquing them too soon. Then pick your top few ideas and put a plan of action into place.
7. Take time to pray for 2-3 of your friends who are yet to find faith in Jesus Christ. Pray also for our church that there will be unity around the Vision 2016, as we run towards its fulfilment.