Monday, March 8, 2010

The Way Forward: Ministry

(A sermon based on Luke 10:25-42 for Sunday, March 7, 2010. This is the fifth in a series called "The Way Forward.")

We have been talking about the way forward for the First Baptist Church of Fitzgerald; so far we have said that the way forward involves a focus on worshiping God, following Jesus, and being formed by Scripture with every aspect of that three-pronged focus being undergirded by prayer. Today I want to say that worshiping God, following Jesus, being formed by Scripture, and praying will necessarily and inevitably lead us to the doing of ministry.

Put simply, being leads to doing; so if we are growing in being Christians we will also be growing in doing Christian ministry.

Everything that we have discussed thus far functions to draw us closer to God but each of the actions we have discussed also turns us back toward the world, out toward other people, in service. We worship, we praise God for who God is, and in so doing we are drawn nearer to him but worship, which is our service to God, is also our service to others, so our worship in church drives us outside the church to serve. Through Scripture we become immersed in God’s story and our lives are formed and shaped in the image of Christ which in turn leads us to be the Body of Christ in the world. As we follow Jesus we will become more and more sacrificial and service-oriented because those were the ways that Jesus lived. We pray because we want to communicate with God but when we pray God will call us to put feet to our prayers and lead us to serve.

As we worship, learn, and pray our hearts change and our spirits expand, but then our feet and hands and mouths get to moving and to working, especially in the service of others.

The gist of this sermon is that we need to become more service oriented, more ministry oriented. But here we need to acknowledge a trap into which we can fall if we aren’t careful: we can become so busy doing things and helping people that we neglect our personal relationship with Christ. If that happens our motives may come to be less that Christian; we may become motivated by pride or ego or legalism—we may even fall into a works righteousness that drains us of all joy.

It is not that Martha was doing wrong in busily attending to Jesus. It is that in her busyness she was not able to turn loose and just sit at Jesus’ feet. If we’re not careful our busyness becomes the point of our lives rather than our relationship with Christ.

Make no mistake about it, though: a true and growing relationship with Christ leads us to serve. We can’t just sit at Jesus’ feet and soak up his love and compassion for ourselves; we have to get up and spread it around. “Do” is a great big powerful word. I can tell myself that I am a neighbor but I am not really a neighbor until I do something. The scribe who questioned Jesus asked the right question; it is the question to which we all want the answer: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” The answer was no mystery; it had been in the Scriptural tradition for centuries and when Jesus asked the scribe how the law would respond to his question he knew the answer. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus told him to go do that.

See, there’s the big word “do.” You know what to do, now go do it, Jesus said. The scribe said, “Yes, but who is my neighbor?” In asking that question the scribe showed what a terribly long way he had to go. In response Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan in which he made clear that the issue is not who our neighbor is; the issue rather is that we be a neighbor.

How can we go about being neighbor to the people around us?

First, we should let the Good Samaritan be our example. He was a neighbor to the injured man in very practical but very sacrificial ways. Someone has said, “Compassion is Christianity in overalls” [Peter Rhea Jones, The Teaching of the Parables (Nashville: Broadman, 1982), p. 231]. We must be doers of the word and not hearers only. We must keep our eyes open to the hurting people around us and give of ourselves to help. We must be neighbors to those here in our city and area and around the world. We must find ways to reach out in big and small ways to our own community and in big and small ways to a big world that is getting smaller all the time.

Second, each one of us should “let it begin in me.” That is, we can move toward being more service and ministry-oriented in our church when we begin to do so in our individual lives. The parable is about one Samaritan helping one injured man whom he found alongside one road. Are we sensitive to those whom we meet on our journey? Do we help them when we find them?

Third, we should find creative ways as a church to minister to the needs of people. I take very seriously the truths that each one of us who is a Christian is a child of God with access to his Holy Spirit and with the ability to study our Bibles and to listen for God’s voice. Each one of you has your own good ideas. As you think of ways in which we can creatively and effectively reach out to the hurting people of our community and our world, share them! (And then be ready to lead us in them!)

We already minister in many ways to many people. Back in November we published in the newsletter a list of the ministries in which we are involved; that list included the following.

Bicycles for Christmas
Patticake House
Lottie Moon Christmas Offering
Pink Ladies
Angel Tree for Homebound
Christian Kitchen Volunteers
Warm-up suits for Life Care
Campbell Soup Labels
CBF Global Missions Offering
Good News Club
Adult 3 Dept. Auction for Christmas
Home Mission Offering
Hospice Volunteers
Annie Armstrong Offering
Habitat for Humanity
Baxley Children’s Home
Bereavement Meals
Booth at Wild Chicken Festival
Hem of His Garment
DVD/CD Ministry
Vacation Bible School
SS and Worship on the Radio
GA Christmas in August
Life Care Sunday School Class
State Mission Study/Offering
Harris House Ministry
Missions Fair
Shiloh Ministry
Samaritan’s Purse
Mission Friends/RA/GA
World Hunger
Ladies Night Out
Heifer Project
Imagine Ministries
Samaritan’s Feet
Ruth’s Cottage
Weekday Preschool
Benevolence Committee

To that list we can now add, among other things, our PACK (Planned Acts of Christian Kindness) Ministry through which we go out on Saturdays to share the love of Christ in “low-impact” ways with people in our community and our upcoming Summer Mission Project in Perry County, Alabama. The Mission Ventures Team is leading us in organizing and prioritizing and promoting our ministry efforts but we need to grab hold of the fact that they are to lead us and not to do the ministry for us—there is ministry for all of us to do!

I am committed, and I hope and pray that you will be committed with me, to turning our attention more and more outward, to working in partnership with the Holy Spirit and with each other to give of our time, our talents, our money—of all our resources—to reach out to the lost and the hurting and the impoverished in whatever ways we can. While we can always improve and expand the ministries that we provide here at the church—we will soon, I am confident, be adding ministry leadership to our Children’s Ministry, for example—the truth is that, when you stop and think about it, we do a good job of ministering to those who come, to those who are part of our church family. The truth also is that we use most of our resources to provide ministry to those who are part of “us.” I hope that we will, as new and additional resources come to us, be committed to using those resources to reach the people outside our walls who need the love of Christ.

For example, you probably read Sherri Butler’s recent story in our local newspaper that reported that Ben Hill County ranks 153rd out of Georgia’s 159 counties “for the social and economic factors that affect health, such as level of education, employment, children in poverty, single-parent households and homicide rate” [ Sherri Butler, “Poverty, low education, teen pregnancy help put Ben Hill near bottom in health rankings,” The Herald-Leader, February 24, 2010, p. 1-A]. While most of those factors are not applicable to those of us who are on the inside of First Baptist Church, they are prevalent in our community.

How can we help? How can we minister? Our calling is to answer those questions and then to live out the answers.

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