The focus of the Father

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Now if Jesus were here I think we’d find Him today

Down at Johnny’s Cafe.

This, of course, is the punchline of the song, and the whole point of it. Get yourself down to Johnny’s Cafe because that’s where the Lord is. We were reminded yesterday that the heart of God is where the lost sheep are, not with those who are already in the fold. “There is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!” (Luke 15:7). This is the heart of God. The heart of God is with the lost — the sinners in need of a savior.

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Here’s to the notorious sinners

 

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Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them! Luke 15:1-7

What a ragtag, motley, mixed-up slice of humanity Jesus dragged around with him! First, you have the disciples, who were just a group of fishermen and a tax collector. Then there’s another group of ordinary folks — what we might call blue-collar people. Trailing behind would have been the sick and the infirm. Cripples, beggars, the blind and lame, hoping for a healing touch. Near the front with the disciples would have been some wealthy women who were helping fund Christ’s ministry, and then maybe a few business owners — merchants — what we would call today white collar. And then there are a few curious tax collectors and notorious sinners who are mentioned here. Maybe a few off-duty Roman soldiers who want to know what all the fuss is about. Finally, off to the side and careful not to be associated with the bulk of the crowd, would have been the Pharisees looking on in judgment of Jesus and all these people. But the people they were judging were those who would eventually change the world.

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Coming out of cultural isolation

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If you’ve got nothin’ to say to folks at Johnny’s Cafe

You’ve got nothin’ to say at all

Having nothing to say to the folks down at Johnny’s Cafe has more to do with whether we want to say something versus having anything to say at all. We all have plenty to say at Johnny’s; it’s all about whether we want to say anything or not. It’s mostly about whether we want to engage.

One of the greatest tragedies in Christendom in the last 40 years is that Christians have created a non-biblical value of separation from the surrounding culture. For the longest time it was equated with holiness, but more often than not, it has played into a fear of the world and a desire to remain isolated from that which makes us uncomfortable, or from that which is different. It’s so much easier being around people who believe the same things we believe. You don’t have to work at communicating. You don’t have to endure opinions that run counter to what we believe about the world. You don’t have to endure embarrassing off-color humor.

Being holy — being separate — gave us an excuse for being aloof. And the more we established a Christian subculture, the more we had a legitimate reason to stay away. We formed a reason for and a means of maintaining a lifestyle of cultural isolation. And we liked that. It pretty much let us off the hook in terms of the work required to communicate across cultural borders and barriers.

Now we’ve got a job to do: join the conversation down at Johnny’s Cafe (or wherever it is that you meet the world). Find out what we have in common with those around us. Don’t just join the church and fill your week up with church activities; join the P.T.A. or the soccer club, or the yoga class, or the soup kitchen — anything that throws you into the community and the culture you reside in.

Or get your boots on the ground and go down to Johnny’s Cafe, and don’t isolate yourself in a booth. Sit at the counter — somewhere you can rub shoulders with strangers (hopefully not strangers for long) and find out (which may surprise you), how much you have in common with everyone else. Let’s face it, we’re all worried; we are all afraid; we are all trying to survive; we are all fighting, or sticking our heads in the sand. We all have plenty to say.

I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some. 1 Corinthians 9:22

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Nothin’ to say at all

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If you’ve got nothin’ to say to folks at Johnny’s Cafe

You’ve got nothin’ to say at all

Having something to say is all about being able to communicate with anyone, anywhere. It’s about finding what we have in common with people wherever we are.

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‘All kinds of people there with plenty to say’

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It’s a diverse crowd at Johnny’s Cafe with plenty to say, they just don’t always get a chance to say it, or if they do, there’s no one to really listen. This is true of people everywhere. There are almost always more people with something to say than those who are interested in hearing what that might be.

Let’s face it: we are all needy. Even those who are shy and withdrawn would give their right arm for someone to show a real interest in what’s going on in their head. We were all created with the capacity for communication, because we are all in God’s image. To experience another person is to experience more of God. We need to learn that to engage another in conversation is to engage in something sacred, and true holiness can be found in the process.

Listening is unselfish. That’s why there always seem to be more people waiting to talk than those who are waiting to listen. We are all more selfish than not; we want people to care about what we have to say. But if we learn to think about listening as something sacred, we might be able to change that.

It starts with putting a significant value on what people have to say. Their words eventually provide a pathway to the soul, so we want to know about that path and be careful on it.

It is also true that listening is not passive. Listening involves being engaged, locked-in, locked-on, alert and awake to what is being said, and able to rephrase it to be sure you heard it right. Believe me, I’m speaking of what I know, but don’t do most of the time. If I ask someone to rephrase something, it’s not to clarify; it’s because I didn’t listen the first time. It takes a good deal of effort to do this right, but it will make a world of difference if you do. Listening is not easy.

People at Johnny’s have plenty to say; is anyone interested in listening?

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Intimate, personal grace

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Thank you to all of you who commented about the importance of John 3:17 in your own life. Just to be sure, I want to make clear I wasn’t really advocating plastering John 3:17 signs all over the neighborhood. I agree with Bob about the limited effectiveness of spreading around a scripture reference. It was more of a metaphor for how important it is to include 3:17 if we’re going to talk about verse 3:16. It’s more about making it more important in our own minds and about acting on it with others, more than anything. If Jesus didn’t come to judge the world, why should we? Jesus is the one here who is making it clear why He came. He came to save, not to condemn. The point is us. What do we do with this truth?

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JOHN 3:17

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I’ve been thinking about starting a JOHN 3:17 campaign.

You’ve undoubtedly seen the self-styled JOHN 3:16 campaign — evangelicals’ most shopped-around logo. Go in your mind’s eye right now and see if you can spot that weird guy with the rainbow afro holding up a JOHN 3:16 sign from a seat where the center field camera, staring in at home plate for the next pitch, can’t avoid picking him up. Got it? See him there? One year he must have been there for the whole World Series. It really did get annoying.

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Everlasting life

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For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. John3:16

All boomers within the sound of my writing voice, listen up. This is the part of this famous verse that is becoming more and more relevant to us every day. We don’t want to believed it but it keeps raising its ugly head. We just had a memorial service for our friend Arnold. Next week is the memorial service for Doug Goins, a man who was a huge encouragement to me at the beginning of my career as a singer/songwriter/performer. I’ve been thinking back on some of the people who were important in shaping my life and my opportunities, and how I need to thank them while I still can. It would have been nice to tell Doug how much I appreciate him, and not just his wife.

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