Yesterday afternoon I went out to the Moss Bluff Christmas Parade to see any of our people who might be out there – and also to see if the Lord might lay on my heart any ideas for us to minister out there next year. It was interesting; there were hundreds of people there – but relatively few from our church. I did have the opportunity to meet several new people – including Gregg Cavener’s neighbor, who said that Gregg was the best neighbor you could ask for! (That thought ought to challenge each of us: what would YOUR neighbor say to someone about YOU?!) But as I walked back and forth along the parade route, I thought about the scripture passage I had already planned to use for tonight, from Matthew 9:35-38. It speaks of Jesus’ reaction to seeing the crowds – crowds like were at that parade yesterday. And it challenges us, here at the end of one year, and soon to begin another, to recommit ourselves to “The Work of the Kingdom.”
I. Kingdom ministry:
One of the first things we see here is a review of the basics of the ministry of Jesus. Verse 35 says that “Jesus was going about all the cities and the villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the gospel of the Kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness.” These words are a summary of the ministry of Jesus. He proclaimed the gospel; He taught; and He healed. That is “reaching, teaching, caring” – the basic ministries of Jesus to the people. He was constantly involved in doing these 3 things. In fact, if you go back to Matthew 4:23, you will find almost the exact same words: “And Jesus was going about in allGalilee, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the gospel of the Kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people.” The same things! These words form a “parenthesis” around Jesus’ ministry, and show us the basic things that he was always involved in: reaching, teaching, and caring for people. Now we know that underlying all of these was His personal relationship with His Heavenly Father. Jesus had said earlier in Matthew 4, “You shall worship the Lord your God.” Hence we have those 4 basic ministries: “Worshipping, reaching, teaching & caring.” But in His personal ministry to others, it was “reaching, teaching, and caring.” We have seen this before. And we have seen that this is exactly what theEarlyChurchdid; this is what the Apostle Paul did for his ministry – and this is what will be part of any balanced ministry: it will involve reaching, teaching, and caring.
Jesus lived out us here the picture of the perfectly balanced ministry. Some of us may do one of these well, and not so well at the others, but as they said in Mark 7, “He has done all things well!” We hear people speak of someone as a “Renaissance Man”, like DaVinci, who a wide range of talents and abilities. But Jesus is the true “Renaissance Man” – He gave us the perfect model of balanced ministry: reaching, teaching, and caring. This is a model for us as a church together – and for us individually. Each us should strive to follow the model He gave us, and reach, and disciple, and care for people.
Now God has gifted each of us differently. But we should all strive towards the kind of balance that Jesus exhibited here. Use your strength to the best of your ability –but also work on your weaknesses.
I want you to know that I have recently asked the Lord to help me in some of these areas. And I have been gratified to have several people come up to me and say, “Bro. Shawn, I have noticed that you are doing some things differently.” That is affirming to me, because I have made some recommitments. God is working in my life. I want you to know, for example, that as I was preaching through I Corinthians 13, I wasn’t just preaching to you all – I was preaching to MYSELF! God was saying to ME: Shawn, this is what YOU need! Love needs to be “the final word” for you! I have received that from Him, and I am recommitting myself in that area.
Now in the same way, you may look at these basic ministries that Jesus was involved in, and say that you need to rededicate your life in one or more of these areas. Are you involved in reaching people for the Lord in some way? When I was out at the parade yesterday, I met one of our Sunday School class members, and she had a big group of kids from her neighborhood with her. And she said that she loads them up into her van and brings them to church every Sunday morning too. I said, “Wow, we need more people like you!” Some of us tonight need to ask the Lord to help us be that kind of person who is reaching those around you. Are you discipling others one-on-one or in a class? Are you caring about people in your Sunday School class, or in your neighborhood, or on the job? We may each be good at one of these; but let’s not be satisfied with anything less than a balanced, Kingdom ministry just like Jesus had.
II. Kingdom Passion
:36 “Seeing the multitude, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd.”
We saw this morning that Jesus came to be our shepherd. He wants to lead and guide and provide for each of us. But SO many people do not know Him that way. And the Bible says here that Jesus had compassion for all these people He saw, who were like sheep without a shepherd.
To put that in a very modern context, I think we can come back to the people we see at the Moss Bluff Christmas parade. Or at Wal-Mart, or Market Basket. The Lord has spoken to my heart personally several times as I just walked through Market Basket and saw all of the people rushing through there: rich and poor, in camo, in football colors, lugging out cases of beer or whatever. SO many people give no evidence of knowing the Lord – in fact many of them give evidence to the contrary! And although we are a pretty good-sized church, so few of the total people in our area attend here. As I was in Market Basket the other day, I prayed: “Lord, what can we do to reach these people?” We’ve GOT to be touched by the multitudes like Jesus was; we have to ask that question. We can’t be content to just stay where we are.
I am re-reading one of the greatest books of the 20th century, J.I. Packer’s Knowing God. If you have never read it I would encourage you to do so. The first part of the book is a great outline of what it means to know God, and the second part focuses on what the Bible teaches us about God. In His chapter on Jesus as God Incarnate, Packer writes about “The Christmas Spirit”, which very applicable for this time of year:
We talk glibly of the “Christmas spirit”, rarely meaning more by this than sentimental jollity on a family basis. But … the phrase should in fact carry a tremendous weight of meaning. It ought to mean the reproducing in human lives of the temper of Him who for our sakes became poor at the first Christmas. And the Christmas spirit itself ought to be the mark of every Christian all the year round.
It is our shame and disgrace today that so many Christians – I will be more specific: so many of the soundest and most orthodox Christians – go through this world in the spirit of the priest and the Levite in our Lord’s parable, seeing human needs all around them, but … averting their eyes and passing by on the other side. That is not the Christmas spirit. Nor is it the spirit of those Christians – alas, they are many – whose ambition in life seems limited to building a nice middle-class Christian home, and making nice middle-class Christian friends … and who leave the submiddle-class sections of the community, Christian and non-Christian, to get on by themselves … The Christmas spirit is the spirit of those, who, like their Master … enrich their fellow humans, giving time, trouble, care and concern, to do good to others – and not just their own friends – in whatever way there seems need.
Packer reminds us that getting “The Christmas Spirit” doesn’t mean going out to the mall and getting a lot of presents, or singing “Deck the Halls”! It is about rededicating ourselves to reach out to the lost and the needy with the message of the Jesus who came for us all at Christmas.
While we are on this point, let me say I hope to be able to present to you – hopefully next week — a way that YOU can invest what is for us a very small amount of money every month, to absolutely change the life of a poor child in India. We are working with Pastor Sanjay Charan, our mission partner inIndia, on this project, and I am excited about the possibilities of it to help some children – but also to spread the gospel and get a new church started in India. The opportunity to be involved may be limited, so you are going to need to jump on it when you hear it – so be ready with your “Christmas Spirit” to change the life of a poor child in Jesus’ name!
But this is not just for those overseas – in India or Suriname or Nepal– we are to start right here. We need to reach those people in Market Basket; those people at the Christmas Parade; those people in our neighborhoods.
I want you to know that we as a ministry staff are rededicating ourselves to that this next year. When we met a couple of weeks ago, I set an ambitious goal before Brother David as our Education Minister, and for each of our staff members and age group ministers: to increase our Sunday School by 10% in 2012. I want you to know that Bro. David licked his chops! A very good rate of growth for a church would be 5%, but I felt led to challenge our team to increase our SS by 10% — and we are going to be taking specific steps, to encourage and train existing teachers and class members, to raise up new teachers, to start new classes – do what it takes to increase our Sunday School by 10% next year – and every one of our staff is going to be held accountable for their part of it. I want you to know that we are taking this seriously – as our most important challenge for next year.
But what about you? Will you join us? Some of you teachers need to set a goal to increase your class by10% next year. What would it take for you to reach that goal? And it is not just our church staff, and Sunday School teachers who need to be a part of this – we ALL do! What specifically would God lead you to do, to help you reach people – some of those people in Market Basket, or at the parade, or in your neighborhood – for your Sunday School class? Or perhaps you should start a NEW Sunday School class, or outreach Bible Study next year? Would you pray and ask God to give you a Kingdom Passion like Jesus had?
That’s where it gets personal. In verses 37 & 38, Jesus says: “The workers are few”, and that we should “Beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.” He commands us to pray – and that is the first and most important thing we can do. Pray for our church; pray that we would send out workers into the harvest.
Our church has sent out workers into the harvest, and continues to do so: we have sent Charles & Brittany Shirey and Carmen Miller to Suriname; Bob & Nancy Shirey to Chile; Bo & Summer Alexander to Nepal, and Brittany Tillery to New York. We’ve got David Shirey going through his final training in Richmond before he goes over to France for language training and then off to the harvest in Africa. Our son Paul is at Southeastern Seminary in North Carolina– he’s halfway through now – his plans are still to join the IMB as soon as he graduates. We’ve got Kyle & Brooke Rhodes at New Orleans Seminary, and we just sent Clarity Thoreson to Southwestern Seminary, where she is training for missions – and we’ve got more in the pipeline at Louisiana College and elsewhere. John David Broussard is our newest commitment – he’s serving with David & Adam as a college intern, helping him get ready for ministry. We ARE sending out workers into the harvest.
God may be calling some of you here tonight to join them. Kyle and Brooke left their job, sold their house, and surrendered to the Lord’s call to serve. God may be calling some of you tonight to respond in the real “Christmas Spirit” by imitating Jesus’ incarnation: leaving the place where you are comfortable, to go and reach others for Him, in full-time missions or ministry. PRAY for workers for the harvest – and as you pray, ask God how YOU should respond to that prayer!
But again, it’s not just overseas; it’s right here. Would ask the Lord how He is calling you to be involved in His work right here? The question should not be “if”; it should be HOW! You are right here; you should be doing something right here in Moss Bluff to reach people.
Some of you may hear the Lord telling you that it is time for you to get “back into the game” here in our church: and the most important “game” we have going is our Sunday School. We are going to need more classes. We are going to need more teachers – in every division: preschool, children, youth, and adult. Some of you have never served before, but you may be sensing tonight that God is calling you to be involved. Some of you may have taught before, and you have taken a break, for whatever reason, and the Lord is saying: “It is time for you to get back into the action of reaching and teaching and caring for people through the Sunday School.” Go talk to Bro. David and tell him what God has put on your heart.
And of course it is not just Sunday School. You can reach and teach and care in all kinds of ways. Be a personal evangelist; get involved in our discipleship programs; just love and care for people around you as an individual. How are you going to do that? As we look ahead to 2012, each of us needs to make specific plans to make the best use of our lives next year. And surely the best use of our lives is to be like Jesus and “reach and teach and care” for people. How are you going to do that? Would you ask the Lord what He would have YOU do to be a part of His Kingdom harvest next year?