Responding to God

by: Larry Davies | Mar 15, 2011

Before reading this column, would you join me in saying a prayer for the people in Japan? The magnitude of the damage from the earthquake and the tsunami is potentially devastating. Already estimates have jumped from 1000 to 10,000 lives lost and it could get worse. In addition there are nuclear reactor meltdowns happening in several parts of the country.
Japan desperately needs our prayers and our help.
Today, I pray you will be inspired to step out of your comfort zone and do something different in the name of God.
Frequently, in meetings with other church leaders, I’m told: “There is little hope for our church to have any influence in even our community much less the world. We are small and only getting smaller so we can hardly pay our pastor much less effectively help anyone else. We have very few young people to give us energy. We have no money to pay additional staff salaries. Our volunteers are faithful but they are old and tired.  What are we to do?”
Having served churches for many years, I have discovered helpful answers.
1.    Don’t allow yourself to get discouraged and quit.
2.    Pray to God right now for guidance and wisdom.
3.    Find something you can do and start doing it.
4.    Expect God to challenge you to think bigger.
Jesus told a parable that provides solid answers: “A man prepared a great feast and sent out many invitations. When all was ready, he sent his servant around to notify the guests that it was time for them to come. But they all began making excuses. One said he had just bought a field and wanted to inspect it. Another said he had just bought five pair of oxen and wanted to try them out. Another had just been married, so he said he couldn’t come.” (Luke 14:16-20)
God seems to be the ‘man’ in the parable inviting us, the church, to a great feast; so great, that nothing else should take precedence. The invitations come at first to the guests we would expect to attend any great feast. The so-called ‘good’ people of the community: land owners, shopkeepers and those commonly described as successful and influential: the same people who would also proudly claim membership to a church.
In other words, God is inviting the church first.
Yet, these very same people, ‘good’ people who receive gold embossed invitations from God are the ones who for one reason or another are simply unable to attend the most important event of all time: claiming to be busy buying land or other business necessities or too busy with personal matters.
Excuses! Good excuses but excuses just the same but don’t judge them too quickly.
Remember the excuses given by our own church leaders? “We are so small. We have very few young people. We have no money. Our members are old and tired.” Do they sound familiar?
What is God’s response? “The servant returned and told his master what they had said. His master was angry and said, ‘Go quickly into the streets and alleys of the city and invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.’ After the servant had done this, he reported, ‘there is still room for more.’ So his master said, ‘Go out into the country lanes and behind the hedges and urge anyone you find to come, so that the house will be full. For none of those I invited first will get even the smallest taste of what I had prepared for them.'” (Luke 14:21-24)
Ouch!
As the church we receive the first invitation to God’s feast but then we are expected to respond. If we don’t, the implication is that God will be angry at us, invite others and we will miss out.
How are we to respond when we are so limited? What does God expect us to do? Do you remember my suggestions?
1.    Don’t allow yourself to get discouraged and quit.
2.    Pray to God right now for guidance and wisdom.
3.    Find something you can do and start doing it.
4.    Expect God to challenge you to think bigger.
Obviously the ‘feast’ describes God’s opportunity to be the church in a big way. Our response should be to say ‘yes’ with faith to the invitation knowing that serving God is more important than our occupation, our family or even our very lives. We say yes trusting God for answers, resources and courage to enable us to do far more than we ever imagined possible.
Can it really be that simple?
A few years ago, I would be sincerely struggling to give you a good answer to that question. Our church was growing and active in the community but we were not really a mission oriented church but we were about to be challenged by God.
Several of our members traveled to Jamaica to offer medical aid and church construction help. Their stories and the enthusiastic change God brought into their lives affected us all. At this point we were eager for more opportunities.
Then, we stepped out in faith to provide a home for Lawyers Road Missionary Baptist Church after a tornado destroyed their building. Later as a response to a $10 church-wide challenge, Jim Adams, one of our members would lead a community wide effort to help them rebuild.
Today their beautiful new church still stands as a testimony to what one individual, one church and one community can do to help others. But wait, God is not finished. This is just the beginning.
           
On December 26, 2004 a massive Tsunami swept the Indian Ocean. More than eleven countries were struck by the enormous waves with a loss of life estimated at more than 300,000 people.
Like most churches we raised money. But, now what could we do? How could we become more directly involved? As we searched for answers, God once again began to move within me and our church.
We visited “Gleaning for the World,” a local aid agency specializing in getting equipment and supplies to the poorest countries in the world. Rev. Ron Davidson, the CEO offered two projects.
The first project involved receiving and sorting large bales of used hospital linens which we then boxed to be shipped to third-world countries. Within a matter of days, a large truck unloaded huge tightly packed bales of linens that when unpacked literally filled our gymnasium.
Hundreds of volunteers from three years old to the elderly, converged upon our church and for the next few days we sorted, folded and boxed literally thousands of hospital gowns and sheets.
The second project from Gleaning for the World involved using the money we raised to ship 40,000 pounds of rice from Vietnam to Sri Lanka, enough to feed at least 150,000 people several meals.
Remember the four suggestions?
1.    Don’t allow yourself to get discouraged and quit.
2.    Pray to God right now for guidance and wisdom.
3.    Find something you can do and start doing it.
4.    Expect God to challenge you to think bigger.
God was about to challenge us to think bigger.
Rev. Davidson called and asked: “Would you like to go to the tsunami zone and see the rice delivered for yourself, assess the damage and look for additional opportunities to help?”
I thought he meant we were visiting another aid agency nearby. “Sure,” I said. “Where are we going?”
“Sri Lanka,” he replied.
What could I say but “Yes!” Ten days later, I secured a passport, received my shots and began a series of flights that would last over thirty-six hours and take us literally half way around the world.
Four of us would make the trip: Ray Buchanan with “Stop Hunger Now,” Ron Davidson with “Gleaning for the World,” Len Stevens, anchor of WSET-TV our local news television station and myself.
A guidebook describes Sri Lanka as, “The Teardrop of India: a tear of sheer joy frozen in mid-air.” Others describe it as the original Garden of Eden and proudly point to places named after Adam, the first man. How could such a beautiful country face such massive destruction? We were about to find out.
Next: Sri Lanka
Main point: Our response should be to say ‘yes’  with faith to God’s invitation knowing that serving our Lord is more important than our occupation, our family and even our very lives. We say yes trusting God for answers, resources and courage to enable us to do far more than we ever imagined.
It’s important to remember:
  1. Don’t allow yourself to get discouraged and quit.
  2. Pray to God right now for guidance and wisdom.
  3. Find something you can do and start doing it.
  4. Expect God to challenge you to think bigger.
Questions:
  1. The temptation for churches is to say we are too small to make a difference, yet God teaches differently? How can we make a difference in our community or world?
  2. How can you find out what services are needed in your community?
  3. How can community needs be matched with your gifts and talents are those of your family or church?
4.      Don’t get discouraged. Pray. Find something. Keep thinking bigger.


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