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Posts Tagged ‘reaching out’

The literary structure of Luke 14:15-24

Our Scripture today is sometimes called the parable of the great banquet. It’s part of a larger set of material in Luke 14 where Jesus is at a banquet or fancy meal in a Pharisee’s home.

And there is some tension. Have you ever been at a meal where there was tension? Jesus has just healed someone on the Sabbath right in front of them, which we know would make them unhappy. Then he went on to criticize how they all wanted the best seats at the banquet. And then we come to our passage, where the tension increases even more.

The parable of the great banquet

Eating bread in the kingdom.

15When one of those who reclined at table with Jesus heard these things, he said to him, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”

(more…)

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Series on Witness

Well, today we are wrapping up our teaching series on reaching out. It is my hope that you have all been challenged, encouraged and at least in part, equipped to share your faith with others. And I hope that as a whole, we can be a congregation that is not just focused on our needs and concerns or what makes us comfortable, but that we can learn to take risks to be an outward, outreach focused church.

We have been using the word witness as an acrostic. Remember with me:

  • The “W” is for Why we reach out. Our motivation is Christ’s love for the lost. Do we have Christ’s love in our hearts moving us to act?
  • The “I” is for Idolatry and reaching out. The end is not growing and getting big in itself, but being faithful to God to reach out whether there are results or not. Are you just focused on results or on faithfulness to God?
  • The “T” is for Taking risks. Sharing our faith can be risky, and we prefer to be comfortable. But we need to step out in faith, and trust that God will work. When was the last time you took a risk to share?
  • The “N” is for New life in Jesus is the point. We don’t just want people to come to church or be our friend as we reach out, we want people to receive new life from God so that their lives are truly transformed! Are you praying for God to move among us to make this happen?
  • The “E” is for Everyone can be a part of reaching out. Some have special gifts and callings to do this, but all of us can participate in various ways. And it is only when the whole body of Christ in this place is functioning together and doing their part that we will be the effective agent of outreach that God is calling us to be. Are you using your gifts and doing what you can to help Cedar Street reach out? We have various kinds of outreach opportunities listed on the foyer table.
  • The first “S” is for Several way you can reach out regardless of your gifts and callings. We spent two weeks looking at some practical examples of this, from sharing your story to praying for the lost. Are you putting into practice at least some of these 10 ways of reaching out, that anyone can do?
  • And then today, the final “S” is for Spirit enablement is key.

We have talked a lot about our role in reaching out, because we need to be encouraged to step up and do our part. But today we focus more on God’s role; and God’s role is what is all important. And he is always faithful to do his part. God works tirelessly by his Spirit to bring people to faith in Jesus. Here are ways that the Spirit does this.

1. The Spirit empowers the lost to respond

That’s because by ourselves we can do no good thing (John 15:5). Apart from God’s work in our lives:

  • We are blind. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:4, “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
  • We are dead to God. Paul speaks of the former lives of Christians in Ephesians 2:2-3, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world . . .”
  • We are under the influence of Satan. Paul speaks of unbelievers in Ephesians 2:3 as “following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.”
  • We are slaves to sin. Jesus tells us in John 8:34, “everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.”

So, you can’t just decide to change. You are enslaved, you are clueless, you are hopeless. And that’s why God has to act for each one of us.

As Jesus said in John 6:44 – “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” God has to go before and prepare the way. God has to give light. God has to awaken people to hear him in the haze of their sin and Satan’s influence over them. This is called by some “prevenient grace” – the grace that goes before salvation, that makes it possible for us to even hear the gospel and respond. And God works by his Spirit to do this.

Jesus said this about the Spirit in John 16:8 – “The Spirit . . . will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” The Spirit works in the hearts and lives of unbelievers to show them the truth and to call them to it. To point out their condition; their sin and to show them the path of new life.

This is a part of what we pray for when we pray for the lost – that they will be enabled to hear the gospel and respond to receive new life in Jesus.

Well, if this is how God works in the lost, God works in us also to reach out to the lost.

2. The Spirit empowers us to share

Now, as we learn from the Balaam story in Numbers 22, God can communicate through a donkey. So even without the Spirit’s anointing we can say and do things connected to witness and God can probably use it. But to be effective; to be in tune with what God is doing we must have the Spirit working in us as we share.

Jesus said in Acts 1:8, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses . . .”

Now the Spirit can empower us in many ways but I would highlight two this morning:

The Spirit gives us the right words to say – Luke 12:11-12. Jesus said, “And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”

So here people are called to account for their faith by the authorities, and this becomes an opportunity to witness. And Jesus promises that the Spirit will give just the right words to say.And if God can give the right words in such a grave situation of persecution, he can surely give us the right words in our conversations and interactions with others in our daily lives.

A second way that God empowers us is that the Spirit gives us boldness to share – Acts 4:29-31. The early church in Jerusalem had experienced persecution and opposition. So they gathered together to pray. “’And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.’ And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.”

The Spirit doesn’t just give us the words, he gives us the boldness to speak them out, here even in a context of persecution. And the Spirit can give us boldness in our everyday interactions with others as well.

So if you want to be an effective instrument of God as you seek to reach out to others, pray for the Spirit to help you; to fill you; to work in you. Jesus gives us this beautiful promise in Luke 11:13 – “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” God wants to give the Spirit to us! Pray for the Spirit to fill you and empower you to be an effective witness for Jesus.

A final thought that sums this up God is the real evangelist seeking after the lost through the work of the Holy Spirit. Working in the lost and working in and through us to reach the lost. We do our small part, but God is the one who is in charge and acting all throughout. We have to see the bigger picture. It is not all on us, thank God! We don’t need to take the weight of the world on our shoulders or the eternal destiny of any specific person. God is working through various people and circumstances to bring them to himself. We just do a small part. That’s all God asks. And God will work to draw all people to himself (John 12:32).

A story from high school . . .. I shared the gospel but he didn’t really get it then. But someone else shared later and he became a believer. My point is that we all try and do what we can, and sometimes we do it well and sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we are more like Balaam’s donkey and sometimes we are really anointed by the Spirit. But it is really God who is working in each person’s life. It is God who orchestrates various ones to come into a person life to draw them to himself. I was just one of many.

So be open to do your part and trust that God has been working before you ever talk to any person, and God will still be working in other ways after you are done to reach each person. We do our small part, and then we leave it in God’s hands.

Prayer for the church – The Spirit to move among us to stir us up to be outreach focused – out of love for, to be faithful even when there is little fruit – raise up workers, evangelists and others . . open all of our eyes to doors that you open for us to share.

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Series on witness

Last week we began looking at ways that any one of us can reach out – no special gifts or callings needed. Remember with me the first five:

Live a faithful Christian life. Let your light shine so that others can see God’s work in your life and give glory to God.

Share what God has done for you. Look for ways to share your story and how God has blessed you. Not just when you first became a Christian but also what God is doing in your life today.

Pray for the lost. Ask God to put specific people on your heart that you can regularly pray for.

Pray for outreach workers,that God will raise people up to minister to the lost, even from our congregation.

Support those that are called to reach out. Give financially so they can fulfill their calling and encourage and pray for them.

Today we continue on with yet more ways each one of us can reach out. And the first is to –

Build relationships with the lost

Sometimes long-time Christians are hindered from reaching out because all their friends are fellow believers. They don’t have a lot of connections with the lost. This certainly wasn’t true of Jesus. Luke 15:1-2 says, “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’”

Now this comes to us in part as a complaint from his critics, but it is true. Jesus was around the lost, and while he was with them in genuine relationship with them, he engaged them with the gospel. It says, they wanted to hear him. Are you open to this? The lost are all around us, but are you open to being in relationship? It’s easier to just hang out with fellow believers. But as Jesus said, “those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” (Matthew 9:12).

In my former church we began a ministry to the homeless in our area. And I met tons of people, both Christian and non-Christian. And we would eat together and get to know each other and talk about needs and spiritual things. And my family and I formed relationships with some that last to this day.

But you don’t have to do this. Just be open to whoever God brings across your path. And even take the initiative.

Make use of outreach opportunities at church

Paul says in Colossians 4:5, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.” (NIV) This verse obviously applies very broadly. But it certainly applies to the point that one of the easiest ways to share your faith is by inviting people to church. This isn’t the end goal, of course, but it can lead to the goal of someone discovering new life in Jesus.This is using wisdom to take advantage of opportunities in relation to outsiders.

  • So come to VBS and invite children to come
  • Come to VBS follow-up and meet the families of the children.
  • Come to events like our recent block party and invite others to come.
  • Come to our upcoming Christmas activities – wreath making, Christmas caroling, and invite others.
  • Come and invite people to our Sunday services

*Think for a moment, who might you invite? Maybe it’s the same person or persons whom God has put on your heart to pray for.

Did you know that 66% of the people that come to church come because a friend has invited them or brought them along with them. This is by far the highest percentage. For instance only 8% come from a pastor’s efforts; only ¼% from evangelistic crusades.

Along these same lines . . .

Show hospitality to those who visit

The writer of the book of Hebrews tells the church he addresses in chapter 13:2, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers.” We are to be loving, warm and welcoming to every single person who comes to our church, whatever their background might be.

Now we have a hospitality ministry team that works at this and I am grateful for them, but everyone needs to be involved.

According to the experts a person decides if they like a church and will come back within their first 11 minutes. So take the initiative, get to know people, learn their names, find out some things about them, connect them with other people in the congregation, invite them over for dinner.

*Are there people here today, or maybe who have been coming for a while that you still don’t know their names? This is something to work on so that we can be a more hospitable congregation.

Serve others in Jesus’ name

Jesus said in John 12:24 – “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” He is talking about laying down his life for others on the cross. And when he did this it bore much fruit in that so many have come to salvation based on seeing the love of Jesus on the cross for them.

And we are to take up our cross and serve others. Give of your time, your talents to serve and bless others. Lay down your lives to help others. And when we do this it too will bear much fruit. People respond when they see such love.

*Some of you have been working at this and I am so thankful. But we still have opportunities to serve here in SW Chambersburg. Denise has put together some action cards, some of which have to do with serving and others with sharing. You can look at these after the service. What might God lead you to do?

And then finally,

Love one another

This is our corporate witness as a congregation. Jesus said in John 13:35, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

It’s not common to see real love for others – especially beyond family or friends. But we are to love each other deeply from the heart. We are to give our lives for each other by ministering to each other’s needs, sacrificing for each other, encouraging each other, and forgiving each other.

This kind of love is supernatural. It is fruit of the Spirit of God working in our hearts. I would like for us to be a congregation that is known for our deep love for one another; so that when people come they sense it and know that God is at work. And will be drawn themselves to be a follower of Jesus.

* In your bulletin you have the handout: 21 Traits of Love – A Test. Most of you have seen it before, but look it over again. Take it home with you and see how you are doing loving others – especially your brothers and sisters in the Lord.

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Series on Witness

(Edited). We are making good progress in our sermon series on witness. Today we are up to the “E” in our acronym of the word “witness.” And the title is “Everyone can be a part.” What we are doing today is remembering some general teaching about the body of Christ and how the body works, and then applying this to our topic of reaching out.

1. Everyone has something to offer

God created each one of us and God has given each one of us unique abilities and talents. As David said to God in Psalm 139:14, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” And so are we all. A good example of this in our congregation is our worship team.

And as Christians each of us have spiritual gifts, because the Spirit has come to live in us and work through us. This is what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:7-11 – “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.”

I don’t think that this is an exhaustive list, but it does show us some of the unique ways that the Spirit works through different ones of us. And as each of us allows the Spirit to work in us for the common good the body is built up.

In terms of reaching out, some of you are specifically gifted to reach out. Some of you have talents and abilities and spiritual gifts that empower you to be effective at reaching out. And on top of this, some of you may also be called to the role of an evangelist. I have known a number of evangelists and I love to see them at work. Gary and Denise are among this group. And maybe God is calling others of you to the role of an evangelist. May that be so!

2. God calls forth leaders in the body

Paul says this is Ephesians 4:11, talking about gifts that Christ has given to bless the church, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers . . ..” This verse speaks of four or five different leadership roles in the body of Christ. This is my take:

  •  apostles plant churches
  • prophets encourage and call the church to faithfulness
  • evangelists share Jesus with others
  • shepherds or pastors oversee congregations
  • and teachers teach the Word to the body. These last two may well be just one since teaching is a, or the key activity of a pastor.

As each leader uses their gifts and callings, the whole body is blessed and built up.

In terms of outreach some have been called to lead in reaching out to others. Gary and Denise are helping give leadership to our congregation. The Elders and I work at this. And here recently the Fun and fellowship team has given leadership as well.

3. We are all to be well-rounded Christians

That is, able to do lots of different things as mature Christians. For instance, not everyone is called to be a teacher, but we are all called to teach each other. Paul says in Colossians 3:16 that we are to be “teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom.” So you don’t have to be called to teach SS now and then, or to teach your children about the faith as parents, or to speak a word into a fellow believer’s life that needs to be taught something.

Another example, not everyone is gifted as an encourager, but we are all called to encourage one another. As Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:11, “encourage one another and build one another up.” So you may not have the gift of encouraging or a ministry focused on this, but you can still see someone who is down and say a good word to build them up and bless them.

So we all have gifts and specialties. But we are all also to be well-rounded, able to let God use us in all kinds of ways, depending on the situation.

In terms of outreach, not all are evangelists, but Jesus calls us all to be a witness for him. Jesus tells us in Acts 1:8,  “you will be my witnesses.” Not all have a ministry focus on outreach, but each of us are to always be prepared, as Peter says in 1 Peter 3:15, “to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.”

  •  we can all speak and talk about the Lord
  • we can all look for opportunities that God opens up for us to share our lives and faith with others
  • we can all pray for the lost
  • we can all support and encourage those who do focus on outreach.

4. Leaders are to equip you for ministry

This is where there is often confusion. We fall into thinking that the pastor or other leaders are here to do the work for us. You support them and they get things done on your behalf. But this is not a scriptural understanding of ministry.

Yes, you are to support them, and yes they are to get things done according to their gifting. But what leaders do ultimately has to do with equipping us all for ministry. Paul makes this point in Ephesians 4:12. After talking about apostles and prophets and evangelists and pastors and teachers, he tells us that leaders are “to equip the saints for the work of ministry.” Not to do it for them, but to empower them to do ministry.

For instance those who lead as teachers help all of us to know how to teach and what to teach. And those who have a ministry of encouragement help us all to know how to encourage others better. We become more well-rounded.

In terms of outreach as well, leaders empower and prepare us all to reach out. Neither the Elders and I, nor Gary and Denise are here to do the work for you. Rather we are here to encourage you, to do the work with you, and to provide opportunities for you to reach out in ways that any Christian can do.

5. To be healthy all parts of the body must be doing their part

As I said to you several years ago, the best way to see me have a breakdown is to put all the expectations on me and sit back and don’t participate. Or maybe even criticize. None of us can do all the work of the body by ourselves. And sometimes the ones who are criticizing are the very ones who have strengths who could come alongside to help leaders and others to be stronger, working as a team. Now, I have learned not to take on false expectations of doing it all, but you get my point.

We are a body! What would it be like to be a body where all of the parts looked at the right foot and said, “hey it’s all on you! We’re not going to do anything.” “Hey right foot, we’re hungry!” Or “Hey right foot let’s go into the other room.” One foot can’t move a limp body. Or “Hey right foot, the ear has an itch can you scratch it?” What can a foot do by itself??

No, we are a body. And when every part is functioning, a body can do all that a healthy body can do. And when we are all functioning as the body of Christ, using our gifts, leaders doing their part to minister and to equip the body so that we are all well-rounded – God can do anything through us. Amen?

Paul says this in Ephesians 4:15-16 – “We are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” Notice the phrase – “when each part is working properly.” That’s all of us. Then, the body grows and builds itself up.

In terms of our focus, everyone can contribute to outreach on some level. Leaders, leading and equipping; evangelists and others with outreach gifts doing what they are empowered to do; and each one of us being well-rounded, reaching out as there is opportunity, praying for the lost and supporting those with special gifts and callings.

And then God can do a great work here among us.

William Higgins

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Series on Witness

We are continuing on in our series on witness challenging us to be sharing our faith as individuals and as a congregation.

We are doing the whole acrostic thing with the word “wintess.” So far we have looked at the “W” of witness – Why we reach out. Our motivation is Christ’s love for the lost. And we talked last week about the “I” of witness – Idolatry and reaching out. We saw that we can have a wrong motivation – growing and getting big in itself. But what God asks of us is to be faithful to share whether there are results or not. Today we look at the “T” of witness, and the title is Taking risks.

Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t often like to take risks. Sure, I have done some crazy things here and there, like jumping out of an airplane once. But basically I like things to be calm and controlled; stable and routine. Like most people, I like to be comfortable.

The problem with this is that –

We are called to live by faith

 And faith is all about risk, or challenging us to come out of our places of comfort.

Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” It’s risky because you can’t see how things will turn out, but yet you have a conviction and God calls you to step out and act on it. It’s like Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:7, “we walk by faith, not by sight.” You can’t see what’s ahead and you don’t have control. But we are still called to move forward.

But this is the whole point – you have to trust God, because only God can make it work. It’s beyond you. Faith is all about being in a place where if God doesn’t come through it’s not going to go well. And the question is, are we willing to go ahead and act relying fully on God? We want to be comfortable, but God calls us to live by faith.

Hebrews 10:38 says this about faith, “my righteous one shall live by faith” This is a defining characteristic of the Christian life. And then it goes on to say, “and if he shrinks back (that is, is afraid or gives up), my soul has no pleasure in him.” God calls us to live by faith and not to shrink back from taking risks as we do his will.

Let’s look at some –

Examples of risk

Think of Noah. He built a huge boat in a place where there was only land. And how many years did it take? And how much ridicule did he receive? But Hebrews 11:7 says, “By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household.” He acted by faith and not by sight and God’s purpose was fulfilled through him.

And then there is Abraham. Hebrews 11:8 says, “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.” He acted without knowing what was ahead or being in control. And God used him to fulfill his purpose in the world.

And finally think of Moses. Hebrews 11:29 says, “By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned.” Can you imagine? They are trapped and about to die, but God opens up a sea before their eyes. And then God tells them to go through it! What if the waters come down on them? But because of Moses’ faith and the faith of the people, God fulfilled his purpose in the world.

Now there might be the temptation to think that taking risks in faith is for those who are younger. But let me remind you that Noah was no spring chicken when God told him to build the ark. Abraham was 75 years old when he set off for Canaan. And Moses was in his 80’s when he crossed the Red Sea.

The lesson is that –

God asks us to take risks before he does his work

This doesn’t mean that God can’t get things done without us, but it does mean that we won’t be partaking in the blessing; we won’t be the ones through whom God’s purpose is fulfilled in the world.

No risk, no stepping out in faith – no gain.

For instance, living the Christian life involves risk. We give things up, we serve, and we trust that it will all be worth it in the end. And this is a risk. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:29, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” Why? Because of all we give up to serve God in this world.

And this is true in other areas of obedience to God. It is a risk to trust God for our finances, but we believe that God will take care of us. It is a risk to love our enemy, but we believe that God will take care of us.

And certainly sharing our faith with others involves risk. For instance, if all your friends are Christians, this might mean taking a risk to befriend someone so that you can share your life and faith with them.

And then when it comes to actually sharing it’s risky:

  • What if I share and the person makes fun of my faith?
  • What if they don’t want to be friends anymore? Or it complicates a business relationship?
  • What if they ask a question I can’t answer?
  • What if it doesn’t go well?

Sharing our faith means taking a risk, and it can be scary. But we must trust that God will be with us and take care of us.

In the bigger picture asking God to move among us involves risk. As we saw, God asks us to take risks before he does his work in and among us.

I have been praying for God to move among us and I have invited you to also be a part of this. Do we want God to do something great among us? Do you think that this will happen if we just sit back and are comfortable and take no risks; that we can watch safely from the sidelines? What great thing has God ever done that didn’t require a step of faith, a risk from his people?

No, if God is going to move among us and bring renewal, you can be sure that he will ask us to step out in faith and take some risks.

One final thought. Growing as a church involves risk. What if people do respond? What if we step out in faith and share, and God moves, and people respond? This leads to another risk – change.

If we are comfortable, then by definition we like things the way they are. But if we reach out and grow, things will change. You have to make room for new people, new personalities, new problems and new points of view.

Are we willing to take this risk? Do we love God more than we love being comfortable? Is sharing Christ’s love with the lost more important than our love of comfort?

All I can say is that if we do step out and risk – God will be with us, God will take care of us and God will fulfill his purpose in this place through us.

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Series on Witness

We are in a series of messages on witness that is meant to challenge us to become more outwardly focused as a congregation. Whether this is helping the church’s mission here in SW Chambersburg or whether it is in your own areas of outreach where you live or work or hang out. As a congregation we need to be less concerned with being comfortable and with what we get out of church, and more concerned with taking risks to reach out and with what we should be giving to others as we reach out.

Last week we began with the letter ‘W’ of the word “Witness” – Why we reach out. And we learned from the Scriptures that our motivation is Christ’s love for people. When we have Jesus’ heart of love we will have a different perspective on people, whatever they might be or seem to be according to the flesh. From the perspective of Jesus’ love they are helpless and harassed like sheep without a shepherd and need his salvation and grace.

Well today we focus in on a wrong reason to reach out, and this is the ‘I’ in witness – Idolatry and reaching out. And the idol is the desire to get big; to have a large church, thinking that this is what success means. This is where we idolize growth and getting big as the goal in itself.

Now yes, let me be clear, we very much do want to grow and have people come to know the Lord and become workers for his kingdom. But this can easily and subtly be distorted into an idol. And I think this takes place under the influence of American culture where big is the sign of success. And it comes from using a business model where the bottom line is profit and this is compared to getting more people in the congregation. And it can also just be from envy of other churches that are big and seem to be doing well.

So let me share with you three problems with this thinking:

1. The idolatry of big has a wrong understanding of success

According to this thinking a successful church equals growing and being big. And so if you are not growing you are a failure. But according to the kingdom of God a successful church equals being faithful to reach out, which can lead to growth and being big, but it might not. Do you see the difference in terms of what counts for success? Bigness in itself vs. faithfulness to do what God says whatever the results might be?

That this is true just think for a moment about the parable of the soils. What if a church is in a context where there is rocky soil – trials and persecution, or thorn filled soil – where everyone is focused on the good things of this life? If you are consistently reaching out, but with little or no results are you unsuccessful?

Here’s a more concrete example. What if a church is in a Muslim context and you are consistently reaching out but with little or no results. Does this mean you are unsuccessful?

Here’s an example from our congregation connected to the block party last week. I know a person who invited someone and he came. I know another person who invited 35 people and none of them came. But who would say that the second person was less faithful than the first?

And finally, think of Jesus. Was he a failure because at the end of his ministry he only had a handful of followers? Certainly not!

The point is if you are reaching out, you are successful, whether you are growing or not. Because it is the reaching out itself that is the mark of faithfulness, not the results of reaching out. So you can be amazingly, abundantly, fantastically faithful but have little outward fruit to show for it.

After all, Jesus said “you will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8) not you must have many converts. And so the bottom line is that we are witnessing, not that we are growing; it is that we are loving and obeying God, not that we are big.

2. The idolatry of big will distort our outreach

Anything that we make into an idol will take us down the wrong road. The most prominent example here is that we water down the gospel to get people to come. Right? If the goal is to get people, you need to do what it takes to get people. So you lower the bar to suit your audience so that they will respond. You take away the things that are hard or that challenge people’s sin.

Well, Jesus flatly rejected this approach. We see this first in Luke 14:25-26. It says, “Now great crowds accompanied Jesus.” And we think, way to go Jesus you’re a success! You’re a winner! You have a crowd. But what does he do? “he turned and said to them, ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.’” What? Jesus you have to keep the crowd. You can’t go telling them to give everything up for you. They won’t follow you anymore!

But this shows us that Jesus doesn’t think like us. Jesus wasn’t influenced by the idolatry of big. He was consumed with faithfulness to God. So when there was a temptation to choose between having more people and watering down the gospel, he chose speaking the truth.

Another example of this comes from John 6:26. Before and after Jesus fed the 5,000 a crowd was following him. And in this case he said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me . . . because you ate your fill of the loaves.” What Jesus? Why would you challenge them like this. They wanted to make you a king!

But again, Jesus doesn’t think like us. Jesus wasn’t influenced by the idolatry of big. He was consumed with faithfulness to God.

He went on to talk about faith in him in such a way that most deserted him and he had to even ask the 12, ‘Will you leave me also?’ Jesus wasn’t interested in just getting a crowd. His goal was sharing God’s truth with everyone, even if the crowds went away.

3. The idolatry of big leaves God out of the equation

Yes, you can grow a church without God being involved. Indeed there are non-Christian religious groups that grow very rapidly and are large. But God is not in it. And there are churches that have grown because of a dynamic leader who was later found to be full of sin all along. And there are churches that grow because they tickle itching ears and tell people what they want to hear. But God is not in this.

So yes, you can grow a church without God, but this isn’t true growth. It is based on the flesh; on us and our skills or personality or techniques.And so this puts the spotlight on us. Look what we did. And this is in part why so many have become famous, celebrity pastors. They made their church grow! So they write their books and they go on tour and so forth.

But true growth only comes when God moves and people’s lives are changed. And he does this is thousands of different ways, not through some specific technique or strategy or leadership style.

In fact God loves to use the weak and the lowly; those who no one expects to do anything great. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:27-29, “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” This brings the glory to God.

As Paul said, we may work, but “only God (is anything), who gives the growth.” – 1 Corinthians 3:7. It’s all about God, not us.

Now, none of this is meant to excuse not reaching out, and we have work to do here, as do most churches. And it is good to look at how we are doing in our outreach – if it is ineffective – to see if we are doing it poorly and to make corrections.

And you can also turn all this around and make an idol out of being small or not growing. You know, we are small because we are so much more faithful than other groups! When really it is because we don’t reach out or we have created cultural barriers that keep people away.

My point in all this is to have –

The right focus

So let’s focus on being faithful to God to reach out, taking risks and giving of ourselves to others. This is the measure of our success in the kingdom of God. And even if we are not bursting at the seams we can still be encouraged and joyful in our walk with God knowing that God is pleased with us.

Let’s focus on presenting the full gospel to others, even if it means that fewer people will come. Let’s not change his word and gospel message just to get our congregation bigger. If people don’t come or leave because of this we can still be encouraged and joyful in our walk with God knowing that God is pleased with us.

And let us focus on praying for God to move as we minister in his name, to change people’s lives. If there is not much fruit, this isn’t a matter of discouragement, so much as it is a call to greater prayer and reliance on God to bring about the growth, which only he can do. And we will give him the praise when he does his work.

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Series on Witness

I’ve set three goals to challenge us this year. The first is to work at simplifying our lives from so much busyness, so that God and the church aren’t crowded out. The second is to work at our relationships so that we become a more loving, caring and connected community. The third is to be more outwardly focused as a congregation so that we move from being comfortable, to where we are willing to take risks to reach out; to move from a focus on what we get out of church, to a focus on what we can give to others as we reach out.

We are working at this third goal today as we begin a sermon series on witness, that will continue to challenge us along these lines for several weeks.

We have been talking in Sunday school about reaching out and I want to be clear about two things, First, each of us already have areas where we can share our faith, whether it’s family, job, school, social gathering places, our neighborhoods, and so forth. These are places that God has put us providentially, so that we can do his work. So when I encourage us to reach out I mean all of these.

Now, as a congregation, that is, as a whole, we are placed providentially in the South West Chambersburg area also to do God’s work. And so this is a part of our corporate outreach focus. And we have worked at this a lot recently with VBS, follow up visits with the kids that came to VBS, and with more interaction to come, as we brainstormed in Sunday school last Sunday. And also our block party just yesterday.

But my second point is that you can engage in ministry in SW Chambersburg in many different ways, according the gifts and callings God has given you. So no, not everyone will be knocking on doors. But you can pray for, encourage and support those who do. You can help out with events that are geared toward this ministry. You can pray for this area of town.You can be involved in other ministries connected to the people in this area.

So when I talk about witness don’t think I mean if you’re not doing door to door evangelism in SW Chambersburg you aren’t a witness. Not at all! I want to affirm and bless how God has opened all kinds of opportunities for you in various areas of your life to share – as you gather at a gun-shop wood carving group to talk, as you work in a restaurant, as you volunteer in your neighborhood. All of these are what we’re focusing on. All of these are open doors to share your life and faith with others.

If we ask, why do we share? One reason is certainly that we love the Lord and want to do what he says. Right? Jesus told us, “You will be my witnesses” – Acts 1:8. He said, “You are the light of the world” – Matthew 5:14. And he also said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” – Matthew 28:19. All of these are Jesus’ instructions to us, and we want to do what he says.

But what I would have you focus on this morning is this –

Our motivation for reaching out is Christ’s love for people  

This comes out in two key passages. The first is Matthew 9:35-38. Here we see how Jesus’ love for people was his motivation.

35And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction.” So Jesus is out sharing the gospel.

 36When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Jesus did what he did because he loved the lost. He came, he shared, he ministered and more – because of love. He saw the lost as harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Jesus felt for them and cared about them. You can see Jesus’ heart here.

In this immediate context, his compassion leads him to do two things. First, he asked for pray for more workers. 37Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’” He called on his disciples to pray earnestly for people to go out on his behalf to share his love.

And then second, he sent those very disciples out into the harvest. Mathew 10:5 – “these twelve Jesus sent out.” They became the instruments of his love to others.

The second passage is 2 Corinthians 5:14-15. Here we see how Christ’s love for the lost is not just the reason for Jesus’ sharing, it is the reason that we share.

 Paul says, 14For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15and 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.”

In this passage Paul talks about Christ’s love for people – Christ “has died for all”; and he died “for their sake.” In love, he laid down his life for all. We also see what Christ wants for everyone – new life; that they would “no longer live for themselves” but live a new resurrection life as he does.

Paul goes on to say how this love of Christ affects him. He said, it “controls us.” That is, it directs his actions to be in accordance with this love; Christ’s love leads him to minister to others like Jesus did. This word can also be translated as “compels” in the sense of Christ’s love for others urges him on to minister to them, even Christ did.

The point here is that each one of us is to be like Paul. We are to be controlled by the love of Christ so that we share the gospel with all people.

Why do we share?

Jesus’ love was why he reached out. And Jesus’ love was the reason the 12 shared. And Jesus’ love was the reason Paul ministered. And Jesus’ love is the reason we are to share our faith. 

Like the 12, like Paul, we are to be Jesus’ hands and feet that minister his love to the lost. But to be his hands and feet, we must first have his heart.

How do you view the lost?

Where is your heart? What about the young person listening to loud, profane music? Do you see them through the eyes of the flesh – this person is annoying and rude so that you avoid or rebuke them in disgust? Or do you see them through the eyes of Jesus’ love – this person is helpless and harassed and needs Jesus?

What about the person who is swearing up a storm? Do you see them through the eyes of the flesh – this person is vulgar and should shut up? Or do you see them through the eyes of Jesus’ love – this person is like a sheep without a shepherd; they don’t know Jesus and so they need to be touched by the love of Jesus? Of course they are doing wrong, they aren’t following the Shepherd and he is what they need.

What about the popular person who seems to have everything going their way? Do you see them through the eyes of the flesh – this person would make fun of me, or I don’t like popular people? Or do you see them through the eyes of Jesus – this person needs Jesus too; it may look like things are good, but who knows what’s going in in their hearts?

It’s Christ’s love that changes our perspective. It’s Christ’s love that changes our hearts to look at people in a new way – as helpless and harassed and like sheep without a shepherd.

It’s Christ’s love that is to control us, not our own likes and dislikes. It’s Christ’s love that compels us to share with all people so that they might know Jesus and no longer live for themselves, but for him who died for them and was raised to new life for them.

William Higgins 

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