Friday, 30 October 2015

A CARE DARE

He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
John 10:13
It costs to care. I was chatting with a fellow minister of a church not in our tradition. We were discussing our commitment levels of our churches to the evangelism component of the Great Commission. He told me that in one church he was part of that if a visitor ever happened to turn up, most people in the church would deliberately completely ignore them (or worse) because they felt that visitors were "invaders"! In his current church he lamented that although they paid lip-service to reaching out, they didn't. "Our people are comfortable with each other, and reaching out to others is too uncomfortable for them", he admitted. He then said, "It costs to care. It costs comfort. It's too inconvenient." My heart sank as he told me this. It is my hope that our church will care - that we will have a heart for others. I want to issue a "Care Dare".
But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children.
First Thessalonians 2:7
How often did Jesus walk into an environment with His disciples that was strange and unfamiliar to them? Often. Initially after Christ's resurrection and the birth of the Church on the Day of Pentecost, believers were reluctant to "go" into all the world (Matthew 28:18-20). Instead, they enjoyed thousands of people 'coming' to them. I suspect that the Father orchestrated this as any father would do to help his children gain the confidence to grow up by taking risks and at times experiencing necessary failures. But the first Church seems to have been reluctant to 'go'. Commencing with the persecution of Stephen in Acts 7, it seems that the Father brought a wave of persecution against His Church which had taken its comfortable seat in Jerusalem, despite being surrounded by a lost and needy world. Like any father teaching his son to ride a bike his first step is to give his son confidence and then it is necessary (yet painful) that he let his son fall. The way God treated His infant Church in Acts 2-4was not the same way that He treated his adolescent Church from Acts 8. And I suspect that He generally expects His Church to have matured  some since then, and treats us accordingly today. This means that while the Father 'held onto the bike' initially by bringing people to hear the Gospel when the Church started, we see that His heart was for His Church to go where unreached people were. God still wants His Church to go - to reach out- to care for others.

IT COST JESUS TO CARE
¶ Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confessionHebrews 3:1
What must it have been like for the Lord of Glory to leave Paradise, lay aside His glory and become a zygote? It cost Him. The Eternal One entered into time, forever. This cost Him. The Holy One dined with the unholy. Our Saviour paid a series of costs then the ultimate cost. As Hebrews 3:1 instructs, we should consider the cost that Christ has paid and therefore the cost involved in following Christ. The Gospel is free, but there is a cost which Jesus said must be 'counted' before someone could follow Him (Luke 14:28). Following Christ also has a cost which is described in Romans 12. 
¶ I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
Romans 12:1
To follow the Caring Christ is to increasingly become a carer ourselves. Battle-seasoned pastors are caring pastors who soon come to realise that they must do their job with two ears - one ear for the voice of the Lord and the other for the heart cries of those they minister to. Sit under the ministry of such a pastor and you'll soon find yourself beginning to listen with two ears as well. The battles that season such a pastor come when they fail to listen with both ears. Throughout their pastorate they receive scathing notes and letters from those they have disappointed which either make them or break them. Such pastors receive letters like this-
"I came to your church last Sunday after losing my brother to a long protracted battle with cancer. I came looking for hope - instead, I hardly felt welcomed at all. No one even said hello to me. No one asked me how I was. I came in with a heavy heart and left with an even heavier one. I don't go to a church and I thought you above all people might have been able to give me some comfort at this time. I don't want anything from you now but thought you might like to know how I was treated."

If you meet a seasoned pastor you are meeting a much criticised pastor. But the pastor who learns to care for his critics (rather than let them injure him) is the pastor who learns that criticism is sometimes a gift that enables them to more effectively care. Following the career of such a pastor from the days of his youthful enthusiasm to the days of his most fruitful season and you will notice two almost paradoxical things develop. The first is a tenderness toward people (the second I may discuss another day). He becomes softer. He is more easily moved to tears. He more naturally prays for those in his charge and feels wounded when someone speaks ill of their brother or sister under his oversight. He listens more closely to what his flock disclose to him. He learns that words are not always the best form of communication and often get in the way of what a heart can only say through a tear, an outburst, or a silence. This softening is seasoned by the times when he feels the pain of having not been as sensitive as he should have been to some hurting souls. These painful moments cause a seasoned-pastor to look at people differently, with compassion, with interest, with patience. It is every pastor's desire to impart this care for people to every member of his team. 
Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ...And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 
One of the biggest dangers that an established church faces is complacency. This is when a congregation becomes comfortable with each other. They confuse their mutual friendship for friendliness. Yet the visitor to their church finds them unfriendly - even though they are friends with each other. This of course is an aspect of care. A church's care is done with two hands: one hand embracing each other, the other hand reaching out to others. But, if a congregation is not careful, it can becoming uncaring if it only uses one hand of these hands and ignores those it exists to reach out to with their other.  

PEOPLE, HANDLE WITH CARE
Caring costs, but caring also rewards. Take a moment today and consider who Christ might care for through you. This Sunday someone will walk through the doors of our church for the first time. Will you show care for them? It starts with an greeting of introduction. It continues with an act of service. It is sealed with a sacrifice. It takes place in the work-place, the class-room, the bus-stop, the club. It begins with clich├ęs, becomes an exchange of facts, moves to revealing opinions, and invites the other to explore the mysteries of God's Word through reading the stories of Jesus and discovering what these say, what they tell us about God, and what relevance it has for our lives.

Do we care for those we know, yet who do not yet know Christ? Will you join me in prayer that we might accept this dare to care so that we can be a church with two ears and two hands?
Father,
forgive us for being so pre-occupied with matters that detract us from worshipping You in our devotion and witness. May we hear Your voice. Grant us the grace to present our bodies and our minds to You as living sacrifices so that we can worship You with all aspects of our lives. Use us Lord to reach out to others with Your love and forgiving grace. May we hear the hearts of others. Fill our hearts with Your heart that we might see people differently. Help us to lay our lives down for Your glory as we willingly serve others. Cause us to show Your care to those who are lost, lonely, and longing.
In Jesus' Name,
Amen.
Ps. Andrew

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