Sunday, 2 September 2012

Rules of engagement

Encounter God à  Love People

Busyness!  For many it hinders so much.  We ought to spend more time at home but we are caught up with so many commitments, including commitments to church.  So it might not come as welcome news to you that I see it as my job to equip you to do more acts of service.  Is it wise to do more when we are already stretched doing what we do?  I’ll come back to that in a moment, but first let me tells you about Joe!
Joe moved, with his family, to Atlanta from Alabama and joined Perimeter Church.  Because they had attended a church before they assumed that they were Christians.  However, exposure to God’s Word and God’s people revealed their need to met Christ in a life-transforming way.  Although, this encounter with Christ changed Joe he still had much of his ambition focused on this world.  Then tragedy struck!
His eldest child, a beautiful, popular, respected Christian girl called Jessica was killed in a car crash.  His attachment to this world was loosened in his grief.  Priorities change when we realise what really matters.  Then tragedy struck again!  Soon after Jessica’s death he was diagnosed with inoperable cancer.  He may have had a deteriorating body but he experienced rapid spiritual transformation.  He was really seeing what was important in life, and it wasn’t the success of his business.
Now Joe’s pastor is called Randy Pope (that’s not as embarrassing a name in America).  Randy believes that the job of the pastor is to equip people for works of ministry (Ephesians ).  So when other pastors ring Randy to say that they have a congregational member who is visiting Atlanta to get treatment in the city’s Emory Hospital, he doesn’t generally go but tries to send people from the congregation to do this task.  After-all he recognises that there are people in his church who are far more gifted at this ministry than he is.
So, one day he receives a call from a pastor about a man who had cancer and was in the hospital.  ‘Randy, would you visit him?’  Randy said that he would get someone to do it.  Knowing that this patient was dying of cancer he thought that Joe would be the ideal person to visit him.  Joe was hesitant but Randy said that he would teach him what he should do.
Joe came back from the visit and explained to his pastor, ‘Randy, you told me that this man was dying, but you didn’t tell me that he’s probably going to die in the next few days and that he’s not a believer.  Randy, you’ve got to get over to the hospital and witness to him before he dies.’
Randy simply responded, ‘Joe, did you know that you don’t have to be ordained to share the gospel?’  Randy gave Joe a crash course in sharing the gospel and Joe visited the man every day until he died. 
Now it would be nice to say that the patient became a Christian but there is no report that he did.  However, Joe became aware of how valuable every member ministry is.  After their church service Joe approached Randy outside the auditorium.  ‘Randy, I’ve been thinking and have come to the conclusion that you should never go to hospitals and do pastoral work … Be honest.  How many times would you have visited this man with cancer?  Once? … That’s all that could be expected of you.  There’s one of you and many sick people.  But for me, no one expects me to do pastoral work at the hospital.  So I can concentrate on one person and give him more attention than you could.’  Then he added in his own humorous but sincere way: “Besides, I think I probably did a better job than you could have done!”
There is another chapter to this story.  Not long after this event Randy received a call from Joe.  Joe explained that he had just received a phone call from his thirty-eight-year-old neighbour.  His neighbour’s wife had dropped dead while cooking in the kitchen with her two young daughters.  The neighbour told Joe how he and his wife had been talking about Jessica’s (Joe’s daughter) funeral just the week before and commented on how unique and celebratory it had been.  The neighbour’s didn’t attend a church and the wife commented that if she was to die she would like Joe’s pastor to take the funeral.  Little had they realised that this was perhaps her last request.
Joe said, ‘Randy, I know that you can’t do everyone’s friend’s funeral, but in the light of the uniqueness of this situation, would you be willing to be this family’s pastor?’
Randy responded, ‘Joe, did you know that you don’t have to be ordained to do funerals?’  Joe protested that this would be too much for him.  So Randy compromised and they did it together.  Randy recalls the funeral and explains that ‘though I perhaps was the more articulate speaker, without question Joe was the more effective minister.  The reason was obvious—I didn’t know this family.  But Joe loved them and genuinely shared their pain.’ 
Randy concludes this story writing,
‘Everyone needs such people in their lives.  If a church grows as it should, one person could never be that close to a friend to every member.  And besides, even if he could, there would be no time to adequately equip the saints to do the work of ministry.  If the pastor can (or thinks he can) do everything, why should the laity feel compelled to do anything?’
Joe’s story illustrates something of the vision that we are presenting you with this morning.  In particular it was ministry that came out of a life that was being transformed by God.  As we head into a new church year my task it not so much to work for you but to help you get working.  There are aspects to this task that I find challenging, like helping you to identify your giftings.  But this outlook towards ministry places a lot of the initiative in your hands.  The pastor’s job is not to create ministries to suit your gifts but to help equip you to serve and then let you find ways in which you can honour God as you help others.  Another thing, too often ministry is seen as having a recognised role in the church when actually the vast majority of Christian ministry is done by Christians simply living transformed lives amongst those they rub shoulders with.
You might want to protest, telling me that you don’t have the time to do more than you do.  Well, one of the main purposes of our teaching in this church is to equip you with a gospel-orientated mindset.  Think about Joe, tragedy focused him on what really matters in life.  Do we really know what is most important in life? 
Think about our priorities!  Is there any eternal value that Joe’s daughter, Jessica, had been honoured by being made home-coming queen in school?  Not at all!  But it does eternally matter that she is in a right relationship with God.  Are we teaching our children that God doesn’t view success in terms of what they achieve in the classroom, stage or sports-pitch but in terms of a transformational relationship with him?  In the last church I pastored I was always saddened that some of the kids dropped out of all church activities around exam time.  Do our priorities reflect a worldly-ambition or a godly ambition?
Think about our time!  Is that promotion worth it if it takes away the time we need to spend with our families?  We all say that we are busy yet people spend hours a week in front of the television.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not against all television watching but don’t let the TV or Facebook become a big priority for you.  We might be able to free up time for more worthwhile things.
Think about our responsibilities!  If we are unwilling to share the gospel with our families, neighbours, school-mates and work-colleagues then who going to?  Do you know that I am not happy seeing people at every Christian event possible if their attendance means that they haven’t the time or energy to build meaningful relationships with people who don’t yet know Jesus?
Finally, what about those gifts and talents God has given us?  Maybe you are not sure what your spiritual gifts are.  Well, think of it this way.  God has given you those gifts to serve others in his name.  So why not try serving people for God?  You may find that you do this more effectively in some ways than others?  These may reflect your spiritual gifting.  So get out their and just do it.  Remember that serving God is not about having an official role in the church or being recognised for what you do.  Most acts of ministry are simply done when we live lives that are being transformed by God as we rub shoulders with those around us.
So let’s be so heavenly-minded that we are of most earthy good.  In particular let’s be a community of people who enjoy a transforming relationship with God, which compels us to connect with others in love and to seek opportunities to explain the reason for the hope we have within us. 

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