Cultivating a Movement: Be Moved With Compassion!

We’re nearing the end of my sermon series on Cultivating a Movement (see Surrender, Rely on God’s Power, Pursue Holiness, Scatter Seeds, Preserve Unity, and Pray Through).

There is clearly a great deal of need in the world. And, the only organization in the world that truly has the power to change the world is the Church, the body of Christ!

But why aren’t we seeing more change and transformation in the world?

Here are three possible reasons …

  1. We don’t think we can make a difference. Perhaps we see the needs around us, but we don’t help because we feel inadequate, incapable of doing any good for others.
  2. We don’t know where to start. Maybe we see the needs around us, and though we care, we simply have no idea where to start or what to do.
  3. We don’t care. Perhaps we see the needs around us in the world, but we don’t care enough to get involved.

Well, if we’re going to be a movement, we must be moved with compassion. Compassion compels us to get involved and to make a difference!

I love the places in the gospels where we’re told Jesus was moved with compassion. One of those places is in Mark 6 where Jesus feeds thousands of people with a little bit of food. The story begins, “When Jesus arrived and saw a large crowd, he was moved with compassion because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6.34).

Rather than sending people home hungry, Jesus instructed his disciples to give them something to eat. With only five loaves of bread and two fish, Jesus asked the disciples to seat the people for the meal. Jesus gave the food, which he had blessed, to his disciples, to distribute it to the people seated on the ground. Not only did everyone eat, but there was plenty left over!

And, it all started because Jesus was “moved with compassion.”

Jesus once told a story about the Good Samaritan (Luke 10.25-37). In the story, there is a man who’s been robbed and left for dead. After being ignored by a priest and a Levite, a Samaritan (despised in the eyes of Jesus’ listeners) “was moved with compassion” (Luke 10.33). He took care of the wounded man and made arrangements for his recovery. Jesus concluded the story, saying, “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10.37).

I’ve also always loved the order of events found in Matthew 9.35-38. We’re told …

Jesus traveled among all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, announcing the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness. Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them because they were troubled and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. (Matthew 9.35-36)

Jesus traveled. Jesus saw. Jesus was moved with compassion. Often, we wait to be moved with compassion before we go and see. But if we go and see, we will be moved with compassion!

After seeing the great need, and the great opportunity, Jesus said …

The size of the harvest is bigger than you can imagine, but there are few workers. Therefore, plead with the Lord of the harvest to send out workers for his harvest. (Matthew 9.37-38)

God is looking for people who are moved with compassion to make a difference in the world for the kingdom of God. Compassion compels us to get involved and to make a difference! This is why we pray, “Lord, break our hearts for what breaks yours!”

Andy Stanley offers some great advice. He says, “Do for one what you wish you could do for many.” This is a great way to avoid feeling paralyzed—not knowing where to start—or wondering what kind of difference you can make. Just start somewhere!

Pray “Lord, break our hearts for what breaks yours!” And, then “Do for one what you wish you could do for many!”

Cultivating a Movement: Pray Through!

I’m in the home stretch of a sermon series on Cultivating a Movement (see Surrender, Rely on God’s Power, Pursue Holiness, Scatter Seeds, and Preserve Unity).

Too Busy Not to Pray!
We often live as if we’re too busy to pray. In an effort to get things done, we cut out prayer time. This is a pitfall even for people in ministry. A. W. Tozer said, “In an effort to get the work of the Lord done, we often lose contact with the Lord of the work.”

In reality, we are too busy NOT to pray (see Bill Hybels’ book of the same title)!

And, this is so important for the church, because prayer is the heartbeat of a movement!

In Matthew 6, Jesus teaches his followers about prayer. He says they shouldn’t pray for the purpose of impressing others. Rather, Jesus says …

… when you pray, go to your room, shut the door, and pray to your Father who is present in that secret place. Your Father who sees what you do in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6.6, CEB)

After talking about prayer, Jesus turns his attention to fasting, and instructs his followers …

When you fast, brush your hair and wash your face. Then you won’t look like you are fasting to people, but only to your Father who is present in that secret place. Your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6.17-18).

In both cases, Jesus says God is “present in that secret place.”

In The Circle Maker, Mark Batterson states, “In the grand scheme of God’s story, there is a footnote behind every headline. The footnote is prayer. And if you focus on the footnotes, God will write the headlines.”

Jesus begins his model prayer, “Our Father …” Our prayers are determined by our view of God. Batterson suggests, “The size of our prayers depends on the size of our God. And if God knows no limits, then neither should our prayers.”

Jesus prays, “Bring in your kingdom so that your will is done on earth as it’s done in heaven” (Matthew 6.10), or in the traditional language, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. ”

This is a core prayer for a movement. It’s all about God’s kingdom!

Batterson suggests, “The bigger the vision, the harder you’ll have to pray!” God has given the church a mission, a mission that’s bigger than we are. It’s more than we can accomplish on our own. We must rely on God’s power. Prayer is the heartbeat of a movement!

Some practical ways I invited people at Centre Grove to pray through, especially over the next several weeks (at least through Easter), include …

  1. Use the prayer guide for cultivating a movement (we’ve been praying some of these prayers for a while) …
  2. Develop a prayer idiosyncrasy, a prayer practice that’s unique and meaningful for you.
  3. Practice fasting, perhaps the Wesley Fast (described in this post on fasting).

Prayer is so important. Prayer can never be the only thing we do, but it will always be the most important thing we do! R. A. Torrey said, “There have been revivals without much preaching; but there has never been a mighty revival without mighty prayer!”

Prayer is the heartbeat of a movement!

“The Externally Focused Church”

I just read The Externally Focused Church by Rick Rusaw and Eric Swanson (2004). It’s a good book about the church in action through service.

Rusaw and Swanson suggest, “Externally focused churches are internally strong, but they are oriented externally” (17). They are “convinced that good deeds and good news can’t and shouldn’t be separated” (24).

Externally focused churches “identify needs of their communities and start ministries or programs to meet those needs” (29). They also “partner with existing ministries or human-service agencies that are already accomplishing a shared mission in the community” (30).

The focus isn’t really about growing the church as much as it is about transforming the community in which the church exists.

The church has a place in creating healthy, transformed communities. Churches don’t have the luxury of withdrawing from the community. Whether they feel wanted or not, churches must realize that the community cannot be healthy, and all that God wants it to be, without their active engagement and involvement in its life—that’s the way God designed it. (58)

Service, or faith in action, is also part of one’s discipleship. The authors contend, “We learn from the scriptures, but we grow by serving others” (76). They say, “In serving, people have all kinds of opportunities to have their faith stretched” (77). Further, “The way to inwardly build a church is through outward service” (87).

Relationships are key. The authors devote an entire chapter to the importance of relationships. They argue, “The church that develops long-term, trusting relationships with the community is the one that has an opportunity to influence its culture” (94), adding that “Building long-term, trusting relationships with the community doesn’t happen overnight” (95).

On the connection between good works and good news, the authors argue, “Good works are the complement but never the substitute for good news” (120).

They write …

The Christian faith, for the most part, has been reduced to a philosophy—principles and tenets that we believe and can defend but don’t necessarily practice. It is our actions toward others that separate Christianity from philosophy. It is tying loving God to loving our neighbors as ourselves that puts legs to our faith. (116)

There’s also a chapter on casting the vision for an externally focused church. While I’ve always considered myself a visionary leader, the authors argue that all leaders are visionary leaders. They say, “It is a myth that not all leaders are visionaries. If you lead, you are a visionary” (147). That makes sense.

The work of vision is no small part of what a leader does. Rusaw and Swanson assert, “An effective leader spends part of every day focused on turning vision into reality” (150).

Well, if you’re looking for a resource on becoming an outward focused church, The Externally Focused Church is worth a look.

Ethan Joined Our Family Six Years Ago!

Today is one of our favorite days of the year—Ethan’s “gotcha day”!

Six years ago today, Joleen and I were in Korea and Ethan became part of our family, a day after meeting him for the first time in his foster home.

In some ways, it’s hard to believe it has been six years already. No wonder the number one piece of advice we heard as we prepared to bring Ethan home was “Don’t blink!” It was good advice!

To celebrate, we went to a local play place, where the kids played for a while. Afterward, we went to McDonald’s where the kids got ice cream cones (even though it was at least -13 degrees this morning). At bedtime, we read the story of Ethan’s adoption using a photo book we put together a couple of years ago.

We are grateful to God for his blessings on us!

Cultivating a Movement: Preserve Unity!

I’m near the midpoint of a series of messages on Cultivating a Movement (see Surrender, Rely on God’s Power, Pursue Holiness, and Scatter Seeds).

One thing churches must also do is preserve unity!

Sadly, churches can be notorious for their lack of unity. When this is the case, the church develops a bad reputation in a community. So, it’s important for churches to preserve and protect unity!

The church can be known for a lot of things, some good, some bad. When people in a church are growing in Christ and serving the world, they are known for what’s good. The church is at its best when everyone is growing and serving!

The Apostle Paul wrote a lot about church unity. He often referred to the church as the body of Christ. In 1 Corinthians 12, he wrote …

Christ is just like the human body—a body is a unit and has many parts; and all the parts of the body are one body, even though there are many. We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body, whether Jew or Greek, or slave or free, and we all were given one Spirit to drink. Certainly the body isn’t one part but many. … If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part gets the glory, all the parts celebrate with it. You are the body of Christ and parts of each other. (1 Corinthians 12.12-14, 26-27, CEB)

On a similar note, Paul wrote in Romans 12 …

We have many parts in one body, but the parts don’t all have the same function. In the same way, though there are many of us, we are one body in Christ, and individually we belong to each other. We have different gifts that are consistent with God’s grace that has been given to us. (Romans 12.4-6a)

Paul’s words in Ephesians are also important. Midway through the letter, Paul challenges readers “to live as people worthy of the call you received from God” (Ephesians 4.1). Acknowledging that unity doesn’t happen automatically, he says, “make an effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit” (4.3).

To help the church preserve unity, God supplies what the church needs. “God has given his grace to each one of us measured out by the gift that is given by Christ” (4.7). Specifically, “He gave some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers” (4.11), that is, church leaders.

God’s purpose …

was to equip God’s people for the work of serving and building up the body of Christ until we all reach the unity of faith and knowledge of God’s Son. God’s goal is for us to become mature adults—to be fully grown, measured by the standard of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4.12-14)

God put leaders in place so that the body of Christ could grow and be equipped to serve. The church is at its best when everyone is growing and serving!

Paul encourages …

let’s grow in every way into Christ, who is the head. The whole body grows from him, as it is joined and held together by all the supporting ligaments. The body makes itself grow in that it builds itself up with love as each one does its part. (Ephesians 4.15-16)

What would it look like if each one did its part, if every follower of Jesus in the church was growing in Christ and serving the world? That is God’s goal. It should be our goal, too.

The church is at its best when everyone is growing and serving!

Cultivating a Movement: Scatter Seeds!

I’m working my way through a series of messages on Cultivating a Movement (previous messages include: Surrender, Rely on God’s Power, and Pursue Holiness).

The Church has been entrusted with the gospel—the good news of Jesus Christ. We have a story to tell …

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life. (John 3.16, CEB)

But, if we’re not intentional, we can easily take this gift for granted, or worse, avoid our God-given mission, altogether!

The Apostle Paul wrote, “I’m not ashamed of the gospel: it is God’s own power for salvation to all who have faith in God …” (Romans 1.16).

That needs to be our attitude, too. We must not be ashamed of the gospel. It is the only message that has the power to change the world!

That’s the ultimate goal of a movement—to change the world. In the United Methodist Church, we say our mission is “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world!”

Stated another way, God sends us to scatter seed that will change the world!

Jesus began the parable of the soils (or the parable of the sower) this way: “A farmer went out to scatter his seed” (Luke 8.5).

A farmer …
The work of the church, and the work of leaders, in particular, is to cultivate. Movements, like harvests, don’t happen overnight; they must be cultivated!

A farmer went out …
By definition, the Church is called out, but it is also sent out. Just as the farmer “went out,” so too must the Church go out into the world. One of Jesus’ favorite words appears to have been “go.” It’s the key challenge in his final words to his disciples before ascending into heaven. In John’s Gospel, the first thing Jesus said to his group of disciples after the resurrection was, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” We are a sent Church!

A farmer went out to scatter seed.
That’s what we do. We scatter seed. We serve. We proclaim. We give witness to Jesus Christ!

The harvest depends on the type of soil on which the seed lands as well as the amount of seed that’s scattered. In fact, one of the lessons of the story is to scatter seed generously. Jesus concludes his teaching on the parable, saying …

The seed that fell on good soil are those who hear the word and commit themselves to it with a good and upright heart. Through their resolve, they bear fruit. (Luke 8.15)

Paul conveyed a similar idea when he wrote about an offering the Corinthian church was preparing …

I want it to be a real gift from you. I don’t want you to feel like you are being forced to give anything. What I mean is this: the one who sows a small number of seeds will also reap a small crop, and the one who sows a generous amount of seeds will also reap a generous crop. (2 Corinthians 9.5b-6).

Scatter seed!
We scatter seed simply by being fully devoted, and growing, followers of Jesus. As such, we’re salt and light in the world.

Another great way to scatter seed is by serving in a specific (outward-focused) ministry in a local church. In fact, serving alongside other followers of Jesus is one of the easiest ways to reach out to people and “scatter seed”!

When scattering seed, it’s helpful to remember Paul’s word of encouragement …

A person will harvest what they plant. … Let’s not get tired of doing good, because in time we’ll have a harvest if we don’t give up. (Galatians 6.7-9)

Let’s scatter seed. Lots and lots of seed!

God sends us to scatter seed that will change the world!