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Our Mission in a Prodigal World (Part 2 of 2)

Original Air Date 06/18/2015

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Bible teacher Ray Vander Laan offers Scriptural insights about God's love for the world and encourages followers of Jesus to serve others and share their faith. (Part 2 of 2)

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Episode Transcript


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Ray Vander Laan: Our mission is to be willing to engage in culture with sinful people, not accepting their sinfulness. Jesus certainly didn't do that.

Jim: Right.

Ray: But being willing to meet with them, to bring the grace of God to them. So, in that moment, it's almost as if we have to be willing to run so that people sense the love of God, not just in the words we say or the Bible passages we quote, but they discover the love of God in our willingness to care about them.

End of Recap

John Fuller: That's Bible teacher, Ray Vander Laan on the last "Focus on the Family" radio program and he's back with us again today. I'm John Fuller and your host is Focus president, Jim Daly.


Jim: John, it's always so fascinating to hear the Scriptures literally come alive when talking to Ray. He gives us a unique historical perspective on the words that are written there for us. Sometimes they seem obscure, but I'm tellin' ya, Ray finds meaning in it all.

John: Yes.

Jim: And we've just released set No. 13 of That the World May Know and that's the DVD series that Ray hosts for Focus on the Family. It was filmed on location in Israel and we've been doin' this with Ray for 22 years. Ray, it's great to have you back.

Ray: Great to be here. It's an honor to partner with Focus on the Family.

Jim: Ray, last time you shared the prodigal son story with us and applied that to Christians today. We need to seek after the lost, just as the father ran out to greet his son in that story and we want to pick that back up, Ray, with you reminding us that we tend to separate from non-believers, to isolate ourselves as Christians and that's what the Lord is trying to break in our spirit. Is that right, Ray?

Ray: Absolutely. Let me give you a second lesson that's in this set, because it applies here. One of the heroes of the Jewish faith in terms of the one who modeled for them how we're supposed to live, in much the same way that we Christians would see Jesus as our model of how to live, were Abraham and Sarah.

And Abraham is sitting in his tent one day and he sees three strangers coming. [He's] never seen them before. I assume he thinks he'll never see them again.

We know, because we have an insight in the text he didn't have, that it's God and two angels, but Abraham doesn't know that. You know what he did? He jumped up and ran. He then draws water, which is women's work and washes their feet, which is women's work. So, again he humbles himself in order to engage people who are strangers and hungry.

And then he came in and said, "Sarah, bake bread from the finest flour," not the cheap stuff, you know. It's the prime rib you set aside for your anniversary celebration. Give 'em the best we got. And then he said, "Make three measures of this finest flour." Well, we Christians in the West skip over those details. Three measures is 60 to 75 pounds--

Sixteen hundred years later Jesus came, maybe more than that. And He said, "Let Me tell you a parable. "The kingdom of heaven is like a woman who took yeast and mixed it with three measures of flour." And His audience heard Him say, not only is the kingdom of heaven like yeast, not only is the kingdom of heaven like a woman who took flour, the kingdom of heaven is like Abraham and Sarah. Do you want to be part of the Jesus movement? Then you have to deal with strangers, those who are different, those who are in need, the sinners, if you will. You have to deal with them the way Abraham and Sarah did, because that's how they discover what God is like.

Jim: Let's put some again, some meat on the context of this. You're doing a great job of that. One of the things that I've looked at is this difference between orthodoxy—the truth of God's Word—and orthopraxy—

Ray: Uh-hm.

Jim: --doing the Word.

Ray: Uh-hm.

Jim: And you want to do both. You can't—

Ray: Amen.

Jim: --negate either one, but I would suggest that over time with, if I could be blunt, the government taking on more and more of the responsibility that the church has done historically, whether that's orphan care or social safety nets, you know, the government over the last 60, 70 years took on more and more of that responsibility, it seems to me that we in the Christian community, not across the board, but in our heart, we've done less and less of that.

Ray: Uh-hm.

Jim: And what I have seen, Ray, through The Drop Box and other expressions of doing God's will, not just speaking truth, but doing truth, even the world respects that.

Ray: I think so, I think very much so and I think sometimes that you said it as orthodoxy versus orthopraxy and that's a very good way to say it. I say it as, it's the difference between faith in my head and faith being practiced.

And what God wants us to do is to put into practice as an expression, the outward expression of the inner faith we have, and in so doing, that people discover what He's like, His love, His compassion. Jesus said, "If you've seen Me, you've seen the Father." Paul will pick up, I think on that idea and say, "If you are the body of Christ, all knit together—the hand, the eye, the ear—then when people see the body of Christ, they see Christ."

So, the calling of the Christian community is to say to people, "This is what the body of Christ looks like. This is what the presence of Jesus looks like." And if we won't do that in our world, people say we let the government do it. I agree with that 100 percent. Maybe from God's point of view, better the government than nobody. But it's my view that the Christian community has lost a prime opportunity to put God on display. We let somebody else do it. They're not getting the picture of God the way He intended. That's a disaster.

So, I always say to my students, what we oughta do is so rededicate ourselves to meeting human needs around us, that the government finally says, "Well, there's nothin' for us to do, because they're bein' taken care of. I think that's the mission God wants for us. Show the world what I'm like and we need to do it in God's name, which the government can't do and doesn't do.

Jim: Well, and there's a scriptural hook to this, which is, do these good deeds so they will honor your Father in heaven. I mean, right there's the evidence. When you do these good deeds, they'll recognize it.

Ray: That's it.

Jim: And I'm tellin' you, I've experienced it from people that are faithless. They don't believe in God. They don't buy in, but they have contacted me to say, for example with the orphan initiative here at Focus, one gentleman called me. He's in the newspaper business and he said, "I never thought something like that would ever come out of Focus."

Ray: Wow.

Jim: I laughed and said, "You just don't know (Laughter) who we are and what we do. You have a caricature of us." And we were able to develop a deep friendship and I'm so grateful for him. Is he a believer yet? No, but I'm hopeful, because I think there is nobody beyond God's reach--

Ray: Amen.

Jim: --nobody—

Ray: Amen.

Jim: --because they are all created in His image.

Ray: Amen, and if we remember that often God's reach is through the instrument of His human partner, who puts Him on display by engaging the people who need to be reached. It's easy to sit in the distance in a nice isolated, insulated safe faith community and pray for God to reach people. Jesus' point was, I eat with sinners, because God wants you to seek these lost.

You know, Peter says it this way. I love the verse you quoted from Jesus. Peter says it this way."Live such good lives before your pagan neighbors, that though they may accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your good deeds and give glory to our Father in heaven." And that only happens if your neighbors can actually see how you live.

Jim: Absolutely. They've gotta be able to see it and I think that's the great error of today. Let's talk about that priesthood that reaches out to the prodigal in a little more specific way. In this set 13, you're really talking about the Jewish believers re-engaging the Jewish culture.

Ray: Uh-hm.

Jim: They had to do it. Some of them were killed for illuminating people to this very thing that we're talking about—

Ray: Uh-hm.

Jim: --how to engage culture, because in essence, the Scribes and the Pharisees, they didn't like that for whatever reason and maybe you can explain that to us. Why would they have been so harsh? Was it simply the laws that the Pharisees and the Scribes would not understand the parable—

Ray: Right.

Jim: --of the Good Samaritan? They would not embrace what Jesus was saying. It sounds at times like they hated the sinner.

Ray: Right. That's a great question and from my point of view, first of all, I think we have to be a little bit careful. There was as much difference of opinion among the Pharisees, for example, as there is within Christianity today. So, to say "Pharisee" is—

Jim: Right.

Ray: --is way too broad a term. There were certain Pharisees. But let's go back in history. The Jewish people were called to be a light to the nations, live so that the nations see you, when they come to Jerusalem and say, "Tell us about the Lord," so their mission was to put God on display.

They chose to assimilate. They became so pagan at points, not always, that they were just like the pagans. And God finally had enough, and we tend to think He sent them into exile because He hated their sin. Well, He hates sin, always. He sent them into exile because they weren't putting Him on display.

Jim: Hm.

Ray: I love the rest of the world as much as I love you guys, and if you guys won't live a distinctively faithful life, they'll never know who I am. Now they were in captivity for 70 years. Millions died. They lost their temple. They lost their land. When they came back and they lost it because they had sinned and become pagan in their practices.

When they came back, they said, "We're not gonna make that mistake again. We are gonna be absolutely as righteous as is humanly possible." Okay, empowered not to be saved. Salvation is through grace or mercy, as they would say, but we're gonna be righteous, because if we don't, God punishes us pretty severely.

And so, some of them were so dedicated to be apart from sin and sinners, that they wouldn't have anything to do with them. And Jesus came, it seems to me, to swing the pendulum back to say, "It's great to be righteous." Paul will say to the Corinthians, "Touch no unclean thing." But the point of being righteous is not be isolated and separated, but as a righteous community, to be engaged.

And so, Jesus wants to push them back. I understand why some Pharisees were bothered. Listen, we made this mistake in the past and we lost our land for 100 years. You can't make that mistake again, Jesus. If You eat with them, God will sooner or later send us and Jesus has to say, no, no, no, no, no, no. We're called to be holy. You're right about that. Touch no unclean thing, but why? Because God wants to engage this world as a holy community to show them what He's like.

John: Well, I love your passion, Ray and again, we're talking about That the World May Know, the video series from Focus on the Family that is hosted by Ray—13 sets now and the newest one is just out and you can find it at .

You're into something now that's very difficult and that is, where did the assimilation become dangerous? In other words, how do we live that holy life and not look like the world, but be in the world? Because that's the grey area. I think, Jim—

Jim: Well, and that's—

John: --we talked about this.

Jim: --you're right, John and that's where those people who want to be righteous, which is a good goal—

John: Uh-hm.

Jim: --as Ray has said, that's where they get "jitterish." They're concerned and that's where they'll be critical of people that are finding a balance in that arena, where they don't understand it. And it might be because they haven't experienced [it]. They don't know how to be in front of somebody who is a non-believer, be firm on your principles, but loving in your heart. And that is something that comes, I think, through the Holy Spirit.

Ray: Amen.

Jim: You've got to love people. Ray, let me give you this analogy that the Lord, I feel the Lord has given me. Those are big words, and I'm talking to somebody very knowledgeable, so I am wide open to your correction here, honestly. But I thought of Peter and Stephen. Peter, when he's in the Garden, he's not filled yet with the Holy Spirit. He's living out of his human nature, so Jesus is there in the Garden. The guards come to arrest Him.

Peter does what every man would want to do. I'm gonna defend the Son of God. He pulls out his sword. He's gonna teach the guy a lesson to be pickin' on the Son of God. What guy would not want to do that? But Jesus rebukes him and says, that's not the way that we're gonna do this. If you're gonna live by the sword, you're gonna die by the sword. I find it interesting in one of the Gospels, He actually says, we've already done the calculation. It would take 12 legions of angels. He uses a number, so He thought it through.

But then you have the opposite in Stephen, somebody who is filled with the Holy Spirit, can tap into the nature of God in his humanness. And, as he's being stoned in front of Saul, who's brought that group together to execute judgment on Stephen, he's able to pray as Jesus prayed for the sinners on the cross. He's able to give a repeat of that prayer to say, "Don't hold this against them, Lord."

That to me is the difference. There's a different fight. People say that took courage for Peter to do, and it did, but it's a human courage. What Stephen did is a godly courage.

Ray: Amen.

 Jim: Am I on the right track?

Ray: Oh, you've nailed it. If we look at the setting of that First Century story, let's put Peter in context. In the 300 years before Peter was born, the Jews had gone through several major oppressions. I mean, what we see in the news about what ISIS is doing to innocent people, they had faced with the Greeks. The butchery by the Seleucid Greeks of the Jews was legendary and then the Romans and Herod.

And those people had suffered brutally and so, they claimed the promises that like Joshua destroying the Canaanites, like Moses and the Egyptian army at the Red Sea, like Elijah on Mount Carmel, when Messiah came, He was gonna destroy the wicked and set us free. It'd happened all through the Old Testament.

And then Jesus showed up and said, "You gotta love your enemy. You gotta pray for those that persecute you." And people say, "Why didn't people believe in Jesus?" Well, you never know why an individual doesn't believe in Jesus. I think one of the biggest issues was, they had read their Bibles and they were convinced when the Messiah comes, there's gonna be a war to top all wars, and we're gonna win.

And when Jesus came and began saying things like, "You have to pray for your enemy," they couldn't face it. So, at the end, Peter still wants to fight. We think of those disciples as frightened. Are you kidding? Thomas says to Jesus in Jericho on His way up to Jerusalem, "Let's go with Him and die."

Peter pulled out his sword. He's willing to start a war. He knows he can't defeat this mob. He's the bravest guy on the face of the earth at that moment and then Jesus won't fight and not only that, but He heals the enemy. Then they all run like rabbits.

What do you mean? We're gonna face evil by loving our enemy? It'll never work. It'll never work. So, Jesus went to His death and said, "I didn't come to kill; I came to die." And out of that, not only Stephen-- great example--is willing to say, "I'll pray for the people who are killing me," Peter will die, at least if church's history is accurate, for the same cause.

Jim: Right, he comes around.

Ray: He comes around. And if we will catch God's vision, that though He is the great power in the universe and He could with one lightning bolt, finish all the evil oppression we face in our whole culture, has decided that a more powerful way to change the world is to show them the love of God.

Jim: Ray, let me ask you, because it's important. This is so core to where I'm living and what I think the Lord has me doing. And I so appreciate the teaching that you bring and I'm lookin' forward, We have used the series actually with Trent and Troy. I'm tellin' ya, every homeschooler out there, every Christian school child, every public school child who's a believer, you parents should go through this with your kids.

I don't care, you know, what they're doing educationally, but 13-, 14-, 15-year-old kids, they'll get this. It'll bring the faith alive to them like we're talking about today. And we've done it and we've seen it happen with Trent and Troy. Where are those good examples today? Where is the church getting it right?

Ray: I think there's a lot of, to use The Drop Box, the pastor who was rescuing unwanted newborns—

Jim: That's Pastor Lee.

Ray: --Pastor Lee, I think there are many Pastor Lees who are very quietly and unobtrusively engaging their culture by caring and loving and showing the love of God. I know of churches that I go to that have schools in poverty areas, ministries that work with addicts and there's just a profound number of examples.

And I think if we could recapture the essence of that whole idea that Jesus came to sacrifice Himself for the undeserving, to show the Lord of God and that, that's the power that changes the world. So, there are many examples.

I think of the young woman from Iran that was on the broadcast recently. And their love for the very people that have imprisoned her husband in Iran for being a Christian and you see his witness to the guards in the prison and to the other prisoners.

Jim: It's like out of the book of Acts.

Ray: It's unbelievable.

Jim: Yeah.

Ray: But the power of showing the forgiving love of God we've forgotten. We live in a power world where power always is muscle. Well, God has muscle. Don't kid yourself. And we can pray for Him to use that muscle. But an even greater power that Jesus brought was His willing to sacrifice Himself for people who didn't deserve it, to bring the prodigal back.

Jim: Ray, that's such a beautiful illustration of the heart of God. That's what I love. That's what we're talkin' about. That's what's at stake here, it's the heart of God that we're talking about. In Matthew 18, the Lord talks about the sheep, the one lost sheep and the 99 sheep that are left. Talk about that application in this regard. Why again, a Western thinker, you know, you got 100 sheep, why would you leave 99 to be exposed to the wolves to go get one?

Ray: Uh-hm.

Jim: Count it a loss and stick with the 99.

Ray: Uh-hm. That metaphor, the sheep-shepherd metaphor was a particularly profound one in the Jewish world, partly because they thought of themselves—God's people, believers—as God's flock and God is the shepherd. So, anytime you use that metaphor, you are hinting at a relationship that was best illustrated by God and Israel.

Now you'll notice a difference in Matthew and Luke. In Matthew, and Jesus probably made this teaching twice, in Matthew, Jesus says, "A sheep wandered off." Stupid sheep, we sheep always go astray. Seek it. The shepherd looks for him. But let's look at Luke a moment. In Luke, He said, "A shepherd lost his sheep."

Jim: Huh.

Ray: Now who's the shepherd? Well, you could say it's God. But in this case, I think in the Jewish mind, God said, "I'm the shepherd," "The Lord is my shepherd." But there are undershepherds. David says, "I am God's shepherd." The Psalm says, "God led Israel through Moses and Aaron like a flock." Moses and Aaron become His shepherds.

So, when Jesus said a shepherd lost a sheep, in Luke, those Pharisees who were accusing Him of eating with sinners, He's hinting, those guys are out there because you shepherds lost 'em.

Jim: Ah.

Ray: You guys didn't keep them within the fold. Why aren't you out looking for them? The second thing, and I believe this is Kenneth Bailey in his great treatment of this parable, mentions this. If only … the only flock you could leave of 90 and 9 to get the other one is a flock that is so committed to following the shepherd that they would stick together and not wander off while the shepherd is gone.

And I think it implies, Jesus saying, it takes a strong flock to allow a shepherd to seek the lost. And we're back to that idea, you need a community to engage the world, because if we go as individuals, we're never gonna get there.

The third thing is, and I've seen evidence of this, when a sheep wanders off—different from a goat—that sheep is not gonna come back. He's gonna find a bush in the shade and he's gonna lay there and bleat until he dies or is eaten by a hyena. You have to go lookin' for him.

So, this shepherd left and went into the wilderness. And I've been in that wilderness. And he wandered all over until he found him. And then he took this 70-pound animal, or whatever it was, and he carried him home, because that sheep wasn't gonna come back.

So, in other words, Jesus has the shepherd put in an amazing effort to get one sheep back, which was a very valuable commodity in that culture. And Jesus is again saying to those who criticized Him for doing that, do you realize the effort a shepherd will put into his sheep? Well, if the shepherd is God, God will go as far as to send His own Son into an evil world to be rejected by His own, just to find a lost sheep or a whole bunch of lost sheep actually. Why won't you do that? Why won't you put in the effort?

And the last thing I'd point out there, the sheep did nothing. It didn't come back. It didn't bleat to let him know where he was. That sheep just laid [sic] there. In other words, Jesus is saying, those lost aren't gonna come back. They're not gonna come back on their own. You've gotta go and look for 'em.

And that's where I'm blessed by ministries like yours, Focus on the Family, because you're out there engaging a culture saying, if we don't reach out to them, if we don't minister to them, if we're not the presence of Jesus, they're not gonna come back.

Jim: Yeah, oh, I so appreciate that. Ray, also in addition to that and this is myself. I mean, I am not goin' after anybody in this. I'll look at myself first, just the narcissism, the selfishness that we possess and particularly in Western culture. We have so much stuff, that it's hard to think of Pastor Lee with The Drop Box, to give to handicapped children like that in the way that he does. It so profoundly touched the director of that film, Brian Ivie, he became a Christian—

Ray: Amen.

Jim: --because of it.

Ray: Amen.

Jim: That's what we're talkin' about. That's what is on display there, that when you see extraordinary, as you said, extraordinary effort going to save that sheep, that's what attracts the other sheep. They want to be tended by a shepherd that loves me like that, right?

Ray: Amen. You know, you could look at that. It struck me as you were making the comment, asking the question. The original sin was the evil one saying, "What looks good to your eyes?" Not "What does God want?"

Jim: Yeah.

Ray: "What do you want?" And he tapped into a human weakness of putting ourselves first and that desire to be comfortable and to protect my own at the expense of giving myself in mission. You know, I think about the prodigal and the prodigal took a share of the family, which is unheard of. And then he went off to a far country and he spent it. His brother accuses him of spending it on prostitutes and wild living, but actually the word means, "extravagant living."

He overspent his credit limit and lost it, all on his own. And I think what has happened is, we Christians get all caught up in Jesus coming. God sending Jesus so that He died. Now I'm saved and I'm going to heaven, which is beautiful and wonderful and theologically right on, but we stop there.

And now it's me, and I'm covered. I've got my ticket, and we forget that He redeemed us in part for a mission, not just to get us to heaven. That's a big theological truth. He redeemed us because He's creating a partner to put Him on display. And that means because He died for me, I have to be willing to spend my life on behalf of others.

But the narcissism in me says, "Well, I'm goin' to heaven. I want my kids to go to heaven, but beyond that, it's harder and harder to expend myself on behalf of somebody else." So, we're saved for ourselves, not saved, because now we've become God's agents for others.


John: This is "Focus on the Family" And we've been hearing from Ray Vander Laan on a really popular program when we aired it earlier this year.

Jim: John, I so appreciate what Ray has done with That the World May Know and what a great time to reflect on these thoughts and ideas, as we celebrate the birth of Christ during the month of December. It brings it all right back to the real meaning of Christmas and the idea that Jesus laid His life down for all of us, so that we might be saved. And there is no greater gift you're ever gonna be given as a Christmas present than the gift of Jesus Christ dying for you.

That DVD set, all 13 of 'em, talks about the Lord and what it means to be a Christian. We call it That the World May Know, again, a great title, because that's the essence. What if life if all about that? What if we're here really to find our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ? I believe that's true as a Christian. I hope that you'll ask for That the World May Know and watch it in your home. Watch it as a part of your December family tradition and it will grow your kids' faith. I know it, because it's done that for my children.

John: Well, you can get Set 13. It's called Israel's Mission when you call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY or look for the trailer and order online at . And by the way, when you make a generous gift of any amount to the ministry today, we'd like to send Set 13 to you as our way of saying thank you for partnering with us. We want you to have this and to watch it with your family or in a small group and to appreciate Ray's insight of the Scripture.

Jim: John, can I just add one more thing here at the end of the program about the mission of Focus on the Family to change lives for Christ. In the past year, 575 people each day have committed or recommitted their lives to Christ through Focus on the Family. And I want to ask you today to give the gift of family and send a donation to Focus on the Family today. It would really help us at the year end here, where about half the year's budget will come in. And you'll bless many, many lives when you do that.

And when you call today to make a donation, because of some generous friends, your gift's going to be doubled at this time and so, the impact will be even greater. A gift of $50 becomes a gift of 100. Thank you so much for standing in the gap for these families.

John: You can donate or ask for resources when you call 800- A -FAMILY.

Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly, I'm John Fuller, inviting you back tomorrow, Christmas Eve, as we present a special Adventures in Odyssey episode, "A Pokenberry Christmas." That's tomorrow, as we once again, help your family thrive.

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Ray Vander Laan

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Ray Vander Laan is the founder of That the World May Know Ministries and is the creator and host of Focus on the Family's That the World May Know video series. He is also a religion instructor with Holland Christian Schools in Holland, Mich., and an ordained minister with the Christian Reformed Church. Ray and his wife, Esther, have four grown children and numerous grandchildren.