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II Corinthians 5:14b-21
After I became a Christian, I began to faithfully attend church.
And although I continued to work on the railroad with the same group of guys that I had known for 10 years, I found that I now had more in common with my new friends in the church than I did with friends at work. I began to pull away from the guys. Going to picnics in the local park with my B&O family was replaced with pot-lucks at the church. Over time, I even began to feel a little superior than the guys on the railroad; after all, I was a goody-two-shoes Christian and they; well, they were not.
There was Mike Collins. Mike was as straight-laced a conductor as they come. No one wanted to be on his crew, he was such a stickler for the rules; no sleeping in his caboose!
Because I had the least seniority I was assigned to be Mike’s flagman. Truth is we got along fine, not because I was a stickler for the rules, but because I was one of the most conscientious flagmen on the B & O.
One day we were called for the wreck train; so-called because the wreck train hauled a huge steam-operated crane with which to clean up after a derailment. Instead of a caboose, Mike and I got to ride the diner with the wreck crew.
I can still recall as if it was yesterday sitting at the counter drinking a cup of joe and the WreckMaster said to me, “Where’s Mike?” I got up and started walking down the narrow galley to the back of the car looking for him, and there he was lying on the floor, dead from a massive heart attack.
In the days that followed, I began to wonder, “Why hadn’t I tried to reach Mike?” The first mistake I made was that I wrongly assumed he could never be interested in spiritual matters. And the second mistake was pulling away not just from Mike, but from all those guys who desperately needed what I had found in Christ.
I guess you could say that the bottom line was, I lacked was compassion for their souls.
On the other hand, Matthew tells us Jesus had ‘compassion’ for people.
“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them” (Matthew 9:36).
The compassion Jesus had for people was not just a subtle feeling. The compassion that Jesus had for people drove Him into action on their behalf.
Chapter 9 begins with Him having compassion on a paralyzed man who He healed despite the protests from the Pharisees (vs. 1-8). In the next vignette, Jesus has compassion on hated by Jewish people tax collector, so much compassion that Jesus invites Matthew to be one of His disciples. (vs. 9-13). Then in verses 18 to 26, Jesus is called to the home of a little girl who had died. On the way to her house, He heals a woman who had been ill for 12 years (vs. 20-22). And when He arrives, the house of death becomes filled with life. Next up, verses 27-31, Jesus gives sight to two blind men. Last but not least, Jesus sets free the tongue of a man who could not speak (vs. 32-34).
Then Matthew summarizes and puts an exclamation point on this chapter:
Jesus traveled through all the towns and villages of that area, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And he healed every kind of disease and illness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. He said to his disciples, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.” (Matthew 9:35-38).
And we rightly understand, don’t we, from the last words of Jesus, as well as Paul’s admonition to us from today’s text in II Corinthians, that we are the workers Jesus sends into His harvest!
But it is only when we cultivate the habit of looking into the eyes of other people with compassion for their souls that we will be motivated to pray for the Lord to send more workers into His field and then become an answer to our own prayer by getting involved in the helping Jesus bring in His harvest.
Last week from John 4 we saw that a woman who encountered Jesus in Samaria was successful in bringing others to faith in Jesus with the simple words, “Come and see.” On an insert that I have also included today, I challenged you to think of the names of some folks and begin to pray for them, that God would begin to work on their hearts in such a way that when you invite them to come on September 8th or any other Sunday, they will respond by accepting your invitation to “Come and see.”
There are several practical reasons to invite people to attend a worship service:
First, they will more than likely come! One surprise from a Barna study of the unchurched: 96% of the unchurched are at least somewhat likely to attend church if invited. 1 In a survey of 8,000 people who gave their lives to Christ: 7% said it was through the influence of the pastor; while 80% indicated it started because they were invited by a friend! 2
A personal invitation works because people will feel much more comfortable attending a new church when they already know someone there. It will eliminate any fear people have of sitting by themselves. Plus, when they visit CrossPointe at our invitation, they already have a point person to answer any questions they may have.
Second, inviting others gives them the opportunity to make a more informed decision about church and Jesus and eternity. Without the actual experience of being in a worship service, people make assumptions based on what they’ve heard from others and from the media. When they respond to our invitation, they will have a first-hand experience with which to judge whether or not they want to pursue a relationship with God.
C.S. Lewis was once asked, “Is attendance at a place of worship or membership with a Christian community necessary to a Christian way of life?” His answer was as follows:
When I first became a Christian, I thought that I could do it on my own, by retiring to my rooms and reading theology. Later I found that attending worship was the only way of flying your flag. If there is anything in the teaching of the New Testament which is in the nature of a command, it is that you are obliged to take the Sacrament, and you can’t do it without going to Church. As I went, I saw the great merit of it. Attending worship gets you out of your solitary conceit. 2
Third, inviting someone else will usher us into spiritual adventure. When we don’t invite, maybe we’re playing it safe; no harm done, right? But we are missing out on one of life’s most incredible opportunities: being able to play a role in someone’s life for their betterment. Being used by God to introduce someone to God’s forgiveness and grace is an awesome experience! There’s nothing more rewarding or energizing!
As you invite your family members, friends and colleagues, I have four helpful hints:
First, I wouldn’t use the ‘twist their arm’ method as the astronaut in this vignette does.
When you’re not sure whether they attend a church, ask, “I was wondering, do you go to church anywhere?” If they answer yes, then the follow-up conversation is easy. “That’s wonderful! Where do you attend?”
If the answer is, “No,” you can follow up, “Well, if you’re ever looking for a great place to go, I go to CrossPointe and would love to see you come!” At that point, if they don’t respond in any way, leave well enough alone. But if they ask a question or share a bit of their faith journey, then it’s a good sign they’re open to hearing more about your faith or church.
Don’t get discouraged if they say, “No.” It’s not the end of the world. A “no thanks” won’t negatively impact our lives. But a “yes” could change someone’s life forever!
Let’s try not to focus on what could go wrong; God would have us focus instead on the potential of what might go right. What if God has been preparing their hearts and has been waiting for us to invite them?
What if they say, “Yes?”
What if they’re hurting and find healing at church?
What if they experience authentic community and love for the first time?
What if they give their life to Christ, and future generations are changed because of it?
God wants to use us.
God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And He gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” (II Corinthians 5:18b-20).
And He can make His appeal through us with a simple invitation. If we do our part, God will do His part.
But let’s be clear; although we are inviting people to attend church with us, that is not, by any means, the end game!
The reason we are inviting folks here is so that they will have the opportunity to hear the greatest message ever heard. For God sent His only Son Jesus, out of love, to pay the penalty for man’s sin to solve the biggest problem we have in that all have sinned. We invite them so that each can experience the greatest solution to our problem, salvation by placing one’s faith in Christ alone. “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (II Co. 5:21).
Let’s make a difference in the world by connecting people with that message, because reaching out to people for Christ’s sake is the sob of God; it is the anguished cry of Jesus as He weeps over the city of Jerusalem.
But as he came closer to Jerusalem and saw the city ahead, He began to weep. “How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace.” (Luke 19:41).
You can hear the sob of God in Paul’s voice as he writes the Romans:
My heart is filled with bitter sorrow and unending grief for my people, my Jewish brothers and sisters. I would be willing to be forever cursed; cut off from Christ if that would save them” (Romans 9:2-3).
You can pick up on this sob of God through Peter in his second letter to the church:
The Lord isn’t really being slow about His promise to return, as some people think. No, He is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent” (3:9).
It is the cry of John Knox, “Give me Scotland or I die.” It is the declaration of John Wesley, “The world is my parish!”
Dr. Alexander Duff was a great Scottish missionary to India. When he returned home to die, he gave a final appeal for more missionaries at the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church. Partway through his sermon, he fainted and was carried off. When examined by a doctor, the doctor said, “Lie still; your heart is very weak.”
“But I haven’t finished my appeal yet.”
So with the doctor on one side and the moderator on the other, he made his way back to the platform and continued his appeal: “When Queen Victoria calls for volunteers for India, hundreds of young men respond; but when King Jesus calls, no one goes. Is it true that Scotland has no more sons to give for India? Very well, if Scotland has no more young men to send to India, then, old and decrepit though I am, I will go back, and even though I cannot preach, I can lie down on the shores of the Ganges and die in order to let the peoples of India know that there is at least one man in Scotland who cares enough for their souls to give his life for them.” 4
We must realize that every time we look in the eyes of someone we are looking into the eyes of someone for whom Christ died.
On a bitter cold evening in northern Virginia many years ago an old man’s beard was glazed by the winter cold as he waited for someone to come along who might give him a ride on horseback across the river. His body became numb and stiff from the frigid north wind.
Then he heard the faint, steady rhythm of approaching hooves galloping. Anxiously, he watched as several horsemen rounded the bend. He let the first one pass by without an effort to get his attention. Then another passed by, and another. Finally, the last rider neared the spot where the old man sat like a snow statue. As this one drew near, the old man caught the rider’s eye and he said, “Sir, would you mind giving an old man a ride to the other side?”
Reining in his horse, the rider stopped and replied, “I’ll be glad to.”
Seeing the old man was unable to lift his half-frozen body from the ground, the horseman dismounted and helped the old man onto his horse. The horseman took the old man not just across the river, but to his home, which was just a few miles away. As they neared the tiny but cozy cottage, the horseman’s curiosity was piqued. “Sir, I noticed that you let several other riders pass by without making an effort to secure a ride. Then I came up and you immediately asked me for a ride. I’m curious why, on such a bitter night, you would risk waiting to ask the last rider.”
The old man lowered himself slowly down from the horse, looked the rider straight in the eyes, and replied, “I’ve been around for some time and reckon I know people pretty good. I looked into the eyes of the other riders and immediately saw there was no concern for my situation. It would have been useless even to ask them for a ride. But when I looked at you, there was compassion in your eyes and knew you would welcome the opportunity to give me assistance in my time of need.” With that, President Thomas Jefferson turned his horse around and continued to make his way back to the White House. 5
My prayer to God for you and me is that when people look into our eyes, they will see the compassion of Jesus reflected back at them. For when we too, like our Master before us, are filled with gut-wrenching compassion, it will compel us to be involved in reaching people for Him.
3 God in the Dock, Essays on Theology and Ethics. [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, © Reprinted 1972] pp. 61-62.
5 Canfield, Jack and Hansen, Mark. A 3rd Serving of Chicken Soup for the Soul. [Deerfield Beach, Florida: Health Communications, Inc. © 1996] Page 43.