People Connecting to Need
People Connecting to Need
Jeff Jones, Senior Pastor
February 2/4, 2007
Another thrilling episode of FBCN 24! Doesn’t get better than that. Today on 24 we are talking about something that is at the core of God’s heart. If we care even one ounce about him then we will be urgent about what he cares so deeply about. When you watch the show, 24, you feel the urgency…the clock is always ticking, time is always running out, and the stakes are so high. If they don’t find the terrorist or the bomb, then lots of people are going to die. They know that, so they don’t mess around. They are on mission.
Today is designed to be a shot of urgency into our church and into our lives. That’s why I have this shot up here with me, it is an urgency shot. There are a number of times I would like to have an urgency shot to give people, when I’m waiting behind a slow person at a checkout line, or someone who is asking for directions at the tollbooth in front of me, or someone who is taking way too much time in front of me at the Chinese buffet, picking out just the right green bean.
But I think there are lots of times that God would love to use the urgency shot in my life to care more about what he cares about supremely. I’m talking about the mission to which we are called. I know it is important, but how urgent do I really feel about it every day? The 24 mission is a big deal, but with our mission, people’s whole eternity really is at stake. God felt enough urgency to send his own son to die for the sins of the world, and he has now passed on the mission to you and to me to let people know how they can connect to him…how people who are lost to him and cut off from him can connect forever to him…how people can escape the judgment, the deserved punishment for their sin, and know God’s forgiving grace. The way God has arranged it is simple: If you and I don’t go, people will perish eternally.
On Monday night, our family watched the movie, The Guardian, about the coast guard. What a great picture of what we are talking about today. I heard of one church leader that I actually respect a lot say that we need to make sure that our churches understand that the church is like a battleship. I don’t know what he means by that, but I don’t think we are here to blow up things. We are more like a coast guard cutter, more like the rescue swimmers that go out to rescue people from the brokenness of this life, to bring them home to a relationship with God. There is a great line in the movie, where they are running low on fuel and the pilot asks the rescue swimmer, “Should we go back?” And the swimmer says, “If we go back, then people die.”
In Romans 10, Paul says the same thing:
Slide:) ___________ Romans 10:13-15
“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can they preach unless they are sent? You and are I the ones that God wants to use to reach people for him. We are the rescue swimmers. We are the ones with the opportunity to jump into people’s lives, to jump into human need, with the reality of God’s love and message of how people can come to know God through Christ. If we don’t go, people die without knowing God.
A couple of weeks ago, a small group of pastors in our area met downtown at a friend of mine’s place that overlooks the city. Pete Briscoe at Bent Tree, Bruce Miller at McFBC, Andy McQuiddy at Irving Bible, Gary Brandenburg at Fellowship Dallas—we all met and prayed for our city. Once Jesus looked down over Jerusalem and the Bible says that he wept, for they were like sheep without a shepherd. We prayed that God would in a similar way break our heart…because the vast majority of the 650,000 people that we talk about who live in a 10 mile radius of our church do not yet know Christ…they are like sheep without a shepherd. And God will not rest until that changes, and he has given you and me the mission…he has asked you and me to be the ones to make the connections. He wants to use and me, and asks that you and I jump into mission…that we choose a lifestyle as bridge builders, helping people connect to God.
Today we are going to talk about that lifestyle, what it looks like to share God’s urgency and to live the mission. Today we are talking about three types of bridges that God asks all of us to build to others. Be open to God’s heart today. As we look at these bridges, at this way of life as rescue swimmers, are you living the mission?
- Slide:) ___________ Relational Bridges: Reaching people one at a time
To gain a glimpse of God’s heart and perhaps inject a little urgency about people who are lost to him, I want you to turn in your Bibles to Luke 15. Today we are going to be looking at Luke 15 and Luke 10…but first Luke 15, where Jesus tells three stories to illustrate why God cares about lost people, people who have yet to come back home to him.
Slide:) ___________ Luke 15:1-2
Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering around to hear him. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” The Pharisees, some of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, were muttering. They were upset, because Jesus was spending time with all the wrong people. The Pharisees were proud of their isolation from people like the ones Jesus was spending time with, and they couldn’t imagine why Jesus would be violating that same commitment. They didn’t understand God’s heart. They completely missed the point of what their job was as spiritual leaders. So, Jesus tells a story to help translate God’s heart to them in a way that perhaps they might understand:
Slide:) ___________ Luke 15:3-7
3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.
So, the shepherd makes a big choice. He has 100 sheep, but one of them wanders off into danger. One of the sheep is lost to him. Because sheep were so valuable, he decides to leave the 99 in the safety of the pen in order to go out and find the one who is lost. He doesn’t just blow off the one who is lost. He leaves the 99 to go after the one.
In the same way, Jesus said, that is God’s heart. Notice, heaven doesn’t throw a party when 99 gather together in the pen…when the 99 are all hanging out together. Heaven throws a party when the lost sheep is found. Heaven pays far more attention to the one than to the 99…because God cares so deeply about each one. The 99 are safe, but the one is not yet. A good shepherd will not rest until all the lost sheep are home, and a good shepherd rejoices every time one is found.
That is God’s heart for people who are lost to him. Maybe we can understand his urgency when we think about losing something valuable. Have you ever lost something really valuable? Your engagement ring? Your passport on a trip back from some 3rd world country? The other day I lost my daytimer, which has all these notes that are really valuable to me, and I had this panic attack. It was awful.
Far more intense than that, though, were times when one of our two boys was lost. Our youngest, Caleb, has always been a wanderer and would run off in a split second when he was little. I remember a couple of times when he was lost at places like Disney World and Sea World. He was around 3 years old, and we couldn’t find him anywhere. He was just right there, and then he was gone. Thousands of people walking around, and no Caleb. For those minutes of not knowing where he was were the longest minutes of my life. My heart was racing, I was frantic, looking everywhere and getting other people to do the same. All kinds of scary thoughts bounced around my brain, and there was no way I could even think about anything else until he was found. I can’t imagine losing a child for weeks or months…I can’t imagine how I could possibly handle that.
But that is God’s life every day. As a loving Father, there are millions of people who are lost to him, and he cares about every one. That’s the thing we can forget when we talk about the 650,000 people in a ten mile radius of our church that God has placed us here to reach…it sounds like a number, 650,000…but those are not numbers. They are people, with names and stories and lives. Most of them have yet to come home to God, and God has placed you and me here to help them do so…to help them come into a forever relationship with God through faith in Christ.
That’s the way God has decided to reach people, one at a time, through people like you and me whose lives are being transformed. As I’ve said before, God could have done it differently. God could have decided to have angels fly around in a big Jesus shaped blimp dropping pamphlets down from heaven, but that’s not his plan. His Plan A is to use you and me, and there is no Plan B. If we don’t go, then people die. That’s why it is so urgent that we live the mission.
Think about your own life. How many of you came to know Christ because of the influence of a friend, who either invited you to church, shared with you how you can come to know Christ, or who just made you curious because of how they lived their lives? Stand up if that is a big part of your story…including those of you who are tire-kickers, who are checking Christianity out but a friend has been instrumental in that search? Okay. Now, say their names out loud…as I point to you, just say their names out loud. Honor them that way.
That’s how God wants to use you and me, not as slick salesmen, but just normal people who invest in relationships, maybe share our story, pray for them invite them to church. Are you living that part of the mission? Are you building relational bridges? Are you willing to leave the 99 to go after the one, or are you just hanging around the 99? As a church, we do care about the 99, but we understand that heart of the Great Shepherd to go after the one. We want to touch all the 650,000 one on one as we build relationships. Who are you relating to? Who are you praying for? Who are you building a bridge to? Inviting? Write down a name or two or three that God has put in your life. It is no accident that you are there. You are there on mission.
Slide:) ___________ Compassion Bridges: Making Christ’s love tangible
As we get to be part of bridging people to a growing life in Christ, another type of bridge that Christ-followers build is compassion. Like Jesus, Christians choose to respond to the hurting with compassion, not indifference. God calls us to a lifestyle of compassion, and this is another bridge that is very close to God’s heart, something he cares deeply about.
Turn with me in your Bibles back to Luke 10. Luke 10 is probably the most well known parable that Jesus told, the parable of the Good Samaritan. The reason Jesus told the story is that a religious leader, an expert in the Old Testament law, was putting Jesus to the test. He asks Jesus, in verse:
Slide:) ___________ Luke 10: 25-29
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” He answered: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” The expert in the law didn’t like the implications…obviously compassion not his shtick. So, Jesus replies, but before I read the reply think about the issue at hand. Jesus is going to describe what it means to lead the kind of life God blesses, what the outflow of saving faith would look like in someone’s life. He could have chosen any characteristic, but listen to what he highlights in the story he chose:
Slide:) ___________ Luke 10: 30
In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead…” The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was a dangerous road, and everyone hearing Jesus would have known that. In 17 miles, the road descended about 3000 feet. It was a steep, rocky, windy road that had plenty of places for thieves to hide. Nobody felt safe on that particular road. So, this guy goes down the road and gets beaten and robbed, left for dead. Then three people come along the path, two religious leaders that were probably pretty good at giving great sermons about compassion, and a Samaritan man. A Samaritan was looked down on by Jewish people; they were a mix of Jewish blood and non-Jewish blood and were considered half-breeds and a few steps below pure Jewish people. Just like people in our culture look down on the wonderful and innocent people from the fine state of Alabama, people in that culture had stereotyped Samaritans as no-goods. So, here’s what happens:
Slide:) ___________ Luke 10: 31-37
A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
The religious leaders were great at delivering great sermons about compassion, just not so good about acting on it. The Samaritan did what Jesus would have done, what God calls us to do. In the Old Testament, one of the signs of faithfulness to God was showing compassion to the poor and the widow. The Samaritan was the only one who honored that. He went way out of his way to bandage him up, take him to an inn, give away two silver coins, or two days wages, which would have paid for a few weeks in the inn, and a guarantee to pay anything else that needed paying.
Jesus told the story, looked at the lawyer, and said, “Now, go and do the same. Live a life of compassion.” The implication is clear: the person who truly loves God will demonstrate that love through compassion to those God cares for and loves.
And let’s be clear: Jesus wasn’t just talking about the emotion of compassion. If our heart goes out to someone and our emotions are stirred, than we describe that as compassion. But those feelings are only a small part of the story. Compassion is not just a feeling, but an action. My guess is that the priest and the Levite who walked by had feelings of compassion and probably legitimately would say that they valued caring for the poor…but for whatever reason, they refused to stop. They either felt too busy, or too distracted…but they did not stop. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt to say that they had compassionate feelings, but they did not translate those to action.
Two implications to compassion being action more than emotion. For those of you who are not very emotional, not very touch-feely, it is good news. It means that truly compassionate people are not just the emotional types that cry at movies and hug people a lot. Many of you are not like that. Some of you are just not very emotional. You had a feeling once, and then waited it out a few minutes until it went away. You are tear-duct challenged.
But compassion is not about a feeling, or even the feeling good that sometimes happens when we do put God’s love in action. In fact, if you serve people to get that feeling you will often be disappointed. Sometimes it feels good and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes people just don’t even act appreciative. But that doesn’t matter; it’s not about the feel-good. Like the Levite and the Priest in the story, you and I have to decide if we are willing to stop our lives to care for someone else. What I am talking about is very real, and it is not always fun or dramatic or glamorized. We are talking about real people with real needs, and it can get messy. But in that mess is where Jesus is. That’s where he wants us.
This compassion being an action more than a feeling has another implication to those of you who are very touchy-feely. Sometimes emotional types see a need and feel empathy, and they think they are being compassionate. They kind of check the need off their list and feel quite good about how compassionate they are. All they did was feel empathy, but compassionate people do something. Compassion isn’t anything until it acts.
It’s a big deal that we get this compassion thing right, not only for the person in need. That would be enough, because God cares about each one. But Jesus was also clear that compassion is urgent because it is the way a watching world will be attracted to Jesus Christ. Jesus came not only with good news to share but also good works to show, to demonstrate. He wanted to connect with people via good news and good works, and was very clear that the only way people would hear what we have to say is if they see something different in the way we live our lives.
Matthew 5:16 is such a key verse for the church. We love to talk about being salt and light, but we sometimes get confused about that that means. Sometimes the battleship type people define that some interesting ways, but here is how Jesus defined what it means to be light:
Slide:) ___________ Matthew 5:16
In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
We are to create suction toward the church, toward Christ, by good works. As we do good works in culture, we create this irresistible influence that motivates even people who do not know Christ to praise our Father in heaven, to be open to the message about how they can come to know God through Christ.
Part of Jesus’ dream for the church is that we would be light-bearers, people who are known for good works, works of compassion to those in need, people who are known as the ones who care the most when difficulty happens or poverty pervades. The early church grew rapidly largely because in a world where there were no social services, no safety nets for people, the Christians became that. Christians were known as people of incredible compassion. When people in the 2nd century Roman world thought of compassionate people who care about the hurting, their first thought was the word Christian.
Centuries later, how do you think we are doing? Really? As evangelical Christians in America, what do you think we are known for? Compassion? I don’t think so…which is tragic. Jesus must cry about that, and as a church leader I should be crying, too. If we don’t demonstrate the kind of compassion that Christ calls us to demonstrate, we are going to be a joke to people in our culture. A couple of years ago we commissioned a survey of our general area, and found that the 650,000 are largely unimpressed with large churches in our area. They see us as self-righteous, self-oriented, and largely indifferent to the needs in our community. They are quite cynical about the church. When I saw that, I was actually encouraged…because it spells great opportunity to flip the perception of what the church is about in our area.
Right now our culture may be largely unimpressed with evangelical Christians and mostly turned off by us…that irresistible influence thing is not quite happening. But that is changing. What I see all over the country is strong, Bible-believing churches finally getting God’s heart for the hurting. I see this wave of churches moving toward their communities in very powerful ways, so much so that I believe we are moving way closer to fulfilling Jesus’ dream. And I fully believe that in our own geographic area, the people we surveyed will change their mind about church over the next few years—as they see God’s love in action.
I’m going to show you a video of a lady named Gracie who is one of the 650,000 that we reached out to last week. Her home was in major disrepair, and we did a little home makeover in Jesus’ name last week. On Monday afternoon a bunch of our staff went over to put God’s love in action for Gracie, and let’s listen to her now:
How cool is that! What a sermon, too. She understands the heart of God, that the church is called to leave the building and be the hands and feet of God outside of our walls. And I love how God is stirring that up in our church. I love hearing all these stories about our Life Groups involved in the community as well as individuals that are taking initiative. A couple of weeks ago I was talking with someone connected with City House, which is a home for teenagers with nowhere else to go, that we partner with. Tony and Denise Bartel, good friends of mine here at Fellowship, thought about the kids at City House on Christmas Eve. What were they going to do? Just hang around like any other night? They decided that wasn’t good enough. So, they invited the City House kids over to their home for a Christmas party on Christmas Eve, to hang out at a real home and celebrate Christmas together. What a cool thing! The Bartels could have easily justified just spending such a special night with their family, but they decided to do something more significant than that. It is after all Jesus’ birthday, and the best present we can give him is the kind of thing the Bartels did.
The door is wide open for you to be involved, too. Virtually every Life Group in our church has chosen one key way to demonstrate compassion in our community, and it has not only transformed others but transformed us. Through the Life Groups, or just directly working with our partners, we are touching this community in a variety of ways: through an adult and children’s medical clinic for those who can’t afford healthcare, caring for the elderly, meals on wheels, City House which provides a home for teenagers with nowhere to go, and multiple other partners you can find out about on our website.
How are people going to hear God’s voice, know that God’s love is real? Through his people who connect touch with God’s voice and action with God’s love. Choose either with your Life group or some other way one avenue of blessing to our community. Don’t just value compassion, do something. Compassion is more than a feeling; it is an action.
Slide:) ___________ Global Bridges: Lighting a dark planet
In a few months, I’ll be giving a whole sermon on global bridges, because this year our church, which has always been engaged in global outreach, is taking a significant step forward. Our heart is to engage every single person in our church in building global bridges, and there will be a role for you to play.
Already, through your giving, you are impacting the world, and each year we send several hundred of us out on short-term trips, and let me strongly encourage you to go to one this year or next—whether New Orleans coming up, Mexico this summer or Thanksgiving, or Cuba.
Pray about it, and in a few months, you will hear much more about the global opportunity.
So, today, my prayer is that God will give our church and each one of us a shot of his urgency…because what we are talking about today is not just nice and cute…it is from God’s perspective an emergency. You and I are the emergency workers. We are the coast guard cutter. We are the rescue swimmers. Either we will hold back or we will jump in and help people connect to God who are right now disconnected, who if they died right now would go to a Christless eternity. When we talk about a lifestyle of bridge building, I believe God is wanting to shout out in this service, “Get this right! Hear my heart! This is an emergency.” (show coast guard cutter picture). You and I are the coast guard, we are the rescue swimmers, called to jump into people’s lives and connect them to God’s love. If we don’t go, people die…people who are lost to God who are disconnected from his mercy and grace and love, stay lost.
A number of years go I had a wake-up experience that shook me. I went to a fairly routine pastor’s conference where a guy named George Barna was speaking. He is a pollster like Gallup organization and was telling us what he had found related to Christianity in this country. At one point, he stopped, because I think he could tell it just felt like talking about numbers and percentages. About ten minutes before the moment I am about to share someone made some joke about hell. I think that got to him. So, he stopped, and he said, “You know, if hell is real, as we believe, then that means today ____ died, and probably ____ of those people died without knowing Christ and whose future is God’s judgment in hell. If that doesn’t really bother us, something is very, very wrong. And if we ever think that hell is something to make a joke about, shame on us.” Whoa! Took me back.
I’m delivering the sermon about it, but I’m not sure I really get it, that I am really half as urgent as God is. I doubt very many of us are. Trying to capture God’s heart and his urgency, when I think back to the lost Caleb story I told earlier, maybe that helps me relate to God. Urgency in finding Caleb was the only thought on my brain, that was my focus. My son was lost, and I had to find him. I could not imagine life without him, what I would do. I had to find him. And when I enlisted people to help me, some did and some didn’t. Some people just were nonchalant, like “no, haven’t’ seen him. Hope you find him.” I was incredulous! How could they be so non-caring, so relaxed? But some people shared some of my urgency, and they went to work…they helped me find him. I haven’t seen those people since, but I will be forever thankful for those who helped and to be honest I don’t care if I ever see the other people again.
God has to feel the same way. He is saying, “My children are lost! Will you find them? Will you reach out to them? Will you leave the 99 to go after them? Will you build relationships with them and invite them? Will you stop your life and care for those who are hurting, show compassion to those I love? Will you share the emergency? Will you give your life for the mission?
Let those questions bounce around your heart and mind as we hear this song that Sean is about to sing. This song was written by a 17 year old that I believe captured the heart of God. Open up your heart to God’s heart in this song.