Saturday, February 16, 2008

Earning the Right to Care

People need Jesus! That is a no-brainer. The compelling and challenging question is how to reach those people in ways that connect with them at their point of need so they are willing to let you and me into their life to love, serve and walk with them. We have to earn the right to be part of people's lives in significant ways.

We literally stumble over and brush shoulders with many, many people in any given day whose needs are huge. They may hide their needs really well, but that doesn't negate the truth that many people cry inside while they smile outside and most would rather die than admit it. How can we do more than stumble over or brush shoulders? How can we reduce the "many, many" to one heart at a time?

At a Restoration Church beginning in the South Hills of Pittsburgh we intentionally envision and plan ways to meet people at their point of need. Points of need can be almost anything. The issues may even be what I saw described as "closet issues." "Closet issues" are things we try to hide even from ourselves. The list of needs is almost endless and as varied as there are people who need.

Anyone who sits around contemplating whether there is need for us (people who love Jesus) to connect with a world needing light - lost in darkness - is "just wasting time" (as my Grandfather used to say: "If you're waiting on me, you're just wasting time.").

Jesus challenges us in Luke 14:16-24 to intentionally encounter people who need the Gospel in three ways:
  1. The front door to the church and the Gospel: that's the regular invitations to the party (vs. 16) which vs. 18 tells us they "all alike (implies all who received party invitations)" started making excuses for why they couldn't RSVP positively. The banquet is prepared. The party is all ready. But no guests respond to the invitation. They make lame excuses. O, their excuses sound real but they wait to bring them up until it's time to go to the party. That's pretty lame!So, Jesus introduces ...
  2. The servant door to the church and the Gospel: That's the party host's angry instruction to his servants to "Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame." (vs. 21) How do the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame respond to the invitation to the party? They need help! Someone has to lead them if they are blind. Someone has to carry them if they are crippled or assist them if they are lame. If these named needy invitees to the party get there it is only because someone cares enough to serve them into the church and into the Gospel. So, the servers bring the poor, crippled, blind and lame to the party, but there are still empty places at the banquet table which the servants report to their master. So, he broadens the invitation to include ...
  3. The back door to the church and the Gospel: In olden days when etiquette was known and practiced, servants were directed to the back door. Laborers and trades people were also directed to go to the back door. These "back door folk" need more than help. They need to be compelled to come to the party! (vs. 23) These are the people who aren't used to being invited to parties and feel inferior/inadequate to come. Their manners, their speech, their clothes are just what they are. There is the fear factor for the "back door folk." From the "roads and country lanes" the new invitees to this party are first found and then compelled to come.
Just how do we "make/compel" these "back door folk" into the church and the Gospel? We love them there. We sacrifice time and energy for them. We show them love and care like they have never seen so that they are truly compelled by God's love and grace in human form. That's how we earn the right to care. That's how we reach our world for Jesus one heart at a time! That's how the fear factor fades away. That's what we are all about at a Restoration Church in the South Hills of Pittsburgh!

Jesus says that there is eventually no more room at this party - not one single seat left. But each person there is there because someone intentionally came to them and served and loved them and reassured them and accepted them just as they are. This is a process that involves sacrifice and loving service! The process may not be either convenient or easy. This process may even be painful and slow (think of helping a crippled person to the party). But, the point Jesus makes is that we earn the right to love them, serve them and walk with them as we gently lead them to Jesus one heart at a time.

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