Windows of Opportunity

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Windows of Opportunity!

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Ps. Jim White – 24th May, 2020

Good morning Seacoast.

It’s been so good to get some feedback from my message last Sunday.  And to know how huge your heart is for the church – even though we are still pretty much separated.   

Last week I was very much focussed on the church – especially as we move  closer to becoming the spotless Bride of Christ.  That is, I believe, part of the new season we are entering into.

But I hope you realise that of course I was speaking about you – the people – the ones who are the heartbeat of what the church actually is.   

I spoke about the strength that we carry together as the body of Christ on earth.  We are stronger together!  

And how as the church, we have mountains, dreams, visions, destinies to claim and walk in – just like Caleb. That’s our hope together!

Hebrews 10:23-25 The Passion Translation (TPT)

23 So now we must cling tightly to the hope that lives within us, knowing that God always keeps his promises![a] 

24 Discover creative ways to encourage others and to motivate them toward acts of compassion, doing beautiful works as expressions of love. 

25 This is not the time to pull away and neglect meeting together, as some have formed the habit of doing, because we need each other! In fact, we should come together even more frequently, eager to encourage and urge each other onward as we anticipate that day dawning.”

Interesting words for these times – and as we look to easing restrictions.

So this is God’s heart for the church- that we would be strong encouragers and supporters of one another.

But this morning I want to shift focus to our mission together – which is to be Christ’s hands, feet and voice to our community.

And I want to share some information that I heard in a webinar this week that in some ways didn’t surprise me at all regarding people’s perception of what the church is… 

– but in other ways, inspired me and encouraged me in our call to reach our world for Jesus.

Gary Hourigan shared with some of our INC pastors some results of a couple of surveys that are as recent as late 2019 

– just before Covid-19 hit.   And these are responses from Australians.  It’s not some regurgitated American statistics.

It wouldn’t be a surprise to any of us probably that church attendance has declined over the last few decades.  

Our population has grown significantly – but the number of those who are part of church life has gone the other way.

When I was growing up, it was normal in our culture for kids to be sent off to Sunday school.  Church was part of mainstream culture.   But not now.

Having said that, there are parts of the Christian Church that are thriving – while other parts are dwindling.

I want to share these statistics because we need to know and understand what our community is thinking and feeling – where it’s at!.  

And we need to be willing to realign ourselves and how we approach the great commission together as the church.

I think this is particularly relevant to who we will be as the people of God post Covid.  

I also think it is part of putting legs on all the prophetic words that have been coming forth about the church stepping into a new normal.  I am beginning to get glimpses of what that might actually look like.

Christianity is still the largest religion in Australia – at 51% of the population.  But the next biggest group of the population are those who describe themselves as having  “no religion at all” – and that’s 30%.

So 80 percent of people either identify as Christian or nothing.

But listen to this!  Only 30 percent of people say that “religion” is good for society.  40 percent are unsure. 

That means that even though a lot of people identify as Christian, they are not so hot on religion.

Now we have to ask ourselves, what does religion actually mean to most people?  And it seems that when people think of religion, they think of the a religious institution – an organisation – with structure and hierarchy…

But this is where it gets really interesting.

Nearly 90 percent of people are either positive or simply neutral in how they feel about people who are members of Christian churches or groups.

People who know people who are Christians are feeling largely positive towards them.

Generally speaking, people are open to other Christians, to God, and to spirituality.  But not so much to religion – which they perceive to be an institution!  And perceptions are everything.

For someone of my generation or older, that means there has been a really significant shift over the past few decades.

You might want to replay some of this information –  just like I had to – to be able to comprehend what it’s saying.

But there are just a couple more things I want to mention.

And this next point is very sobering.

If people have just one close Christian contact in their lives, they are generally more attracted to Christians – they are more open to them, and being invited to attend a church service or event.

That’s great news!    But listen to this:

Two out of three people in Australia do not have any close friends or family who attend church.

Two thirds of the population don’t know a church going person.

That’s really worth thinking about.  What does that say about us as the church and our effectiveness in reaching those who don’t yet know Jesus?

My own conclusion here is that there are many people in our community 

  who would be open to Christianity 

  • who are certainly open to spiritual things 
  • who would even seriously consider joining in at a church event or service if they were invited by a friend
  • but because they don’t know a close personal friend or family member who actually attends a church, they haven’t responded.

People are saying – at least half the population is saying – that if a close friend or family member asked them to attend church – they said they would say yes!

Why have I gone to all that trouble to share this information with you?  It’s not your normal sermon material!

Well – it’s because this is our commission as the church.

Mark 16:15 New King James Version (NKJV)

Jesus said to His disciples: “15 ….“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.”

And as much as we know how the church can be the most incredible place of belonging – like an extended family – a place where we can find the truth about who God is and who we are – a place where we grow in strength together in our faith…. 

Those around us generally don’t have that understanding – and they have a concept of the church as being an institution that they don’t necessarily trust.  

And I get that!  Of course we all do.  We have all been exposed to some horrific and tragic stories about the Christian church as a religion.

Here’s the bottom line – and all that I’ve shared with you puts this next scripture into context for right now.

John 4:35 New King James Version (NKJV)

35 Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!”

And let’s bring this scripture right up to date with Covid-19.

Do not say – we’ll think about the harvest again when this time of isolation and social distancing is over!  Jesus says – lift up your eyes to the fields – at the community in which you live!  For the fields are already white for harvest even though the church isn’t meeting together right now!

And let’s add to that!  Im not actually adding to scripture.  God doesn’t like that.

But let’s add in the context of where our culture is with church and Christians.

People aren’t looking any longer to the church as a religion or a place that is an answer to their spiritual questions.  

But they are open to people who call themselves Christians – especially if they already have a close relationship with at least one person in their life who calls themselves a Christian.

So how do we reach that two thirds of the population that are unchurched?  Well – we enter their world – not trying to drag them into our own! 

We become someone they can grow to trust – someone who genuinely cares about them – someone who has a testimony of hope to share.

Romans 10:13-15 The Passion Translation (TPT)

“13 And it’s true:

“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord Yahweh

will be rescued and experience new life.”

14 But how can people call on him for help if they’ve not yet believed? And how can they believe in one they’ve not yet heard of? 

And how can they hear the message of life if there is no one there to proclaim it? 15 And how can the message be proclaimed if messengers have yet to be sent? That’s why the Scriptures say:

How welcome is the arrival of those proclaiming the joyful news of peace and of good things to come!”

We are all missionaries. It’s just that some mission fields are only 50 metres away – or even less.

I know this isn’t rocket science or the latest revelation.  But it is a sobering reality – as Australian people have shared their views and their perceptions of the church – we need to rethink who we are as the church and what our call to evangelism is meant to look like.

And as we begin to slowly emerge from lockdown – let’s not miss any window of opportunity to be the church to our community in a way that seeks to connect with others – to build authentic relationships – to seek out the needs of those who could use some support.

Be Christ to our community…

And here is where the Holy Spirit becomes our greatest encourager and guide.  Let Him reveal the opportunities.

Wouldn’t it be awesome if He grabbed hold of us just as He did with Philip.  

God didn’t wait for the the eunuch to walk into a church.

An angel said to Philip to go along a certain road heading to Gaza.  It wasn’t until he got there that he saw the opportunity – as a member of the Queen’s treasury was travelling in his chariot and Philip heard him reading from Isaiah.

 

Acts 8: 29-31 – “29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go near and overtake this chariot.”  

30 So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?”

31 And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him.”

Philip shared with him about Jesus – and the man was baptised.

What about when Jesus saw Zacheaus up the tree?  

Zacheaus could see Jesus coming:

Luke 19: 4-5 – “So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way. 

And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up [a]and saw him, and said to him, “Zacchaeus, [b]make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.”

Zachaeus’ life was changed from that simple encounter with Jesus.  But it’s an example of how we need to look up with the eyes of the Spirit – and to see those that the Holy Spirit is leading us to.

Then there was the parable Jesus taught about what it means to be a good neighbour.

Luke 10: 30-34,  “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among [b]thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. 

31 Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 

32 Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. 

33 But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. 

And when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.”

I share this story because unfortunately, in the minds of still many today, the church is perceived to be like these religious men that just passed by on the other side.   Uninvolved, disinterested and separate.

But here is our opportunity to open our eyes and our hearts to the wounded and broken – the disenfranchised – the victims of betrayal and evil.

And again – they aren’t necessarily going to walk into the doors of the church building.  But they may very well open their hearts to Jesus as we show Christ’s love and compassion to them where they are found.

These are just three great examples of what it means to go to the harvest.

Does it take away the vital need to be gathered together as the church?  Of course not!  In fact – it increases our need to be encouraged and supported in the call.

We are the church, 

  whether we are following the Holy Spirit’s lead to go down a certain road 

  • whether we are continually lifting our eyes to see the one sitting on their own 
  • whether we are getting our hands dirty, binding up bandages around someone who is broken
  • or whether we are lifting our hands up in worship on a Sunday morning together, praising God as one voice, having the water of the word wash over us as one body – being equipped and strengthened to go out again.

It’s never an either or.  

Last week I focussed on the strength of the church together.

This week the focus is on going out and reaching our world for Christ.

Let’s not put the church into a restricted, confined, limited space that turns it into something of our own making.

I have found, that when I ask the Holy Spirit to direct my daily path, to give me opportunities to represent Him – then windows of opportunity begin to open.

Let’s pray for that right now as we close.

Dear Heavenly Father,

We are desperate not to miss the opportunities that lay before us as your church.

Holy Spirit help us to see the one that You are shining your light upon as we walk through our day.

We value the understanding of where our community is at – but even more than that – we value Your wisdom and guidance – Your anointing to fulfil the great commission to reach our world for Jesus.

I pray for each one of us that we would have the heart of Christ for our world.  That we would be able to see – to hear – to discern – to feel Your heart cry for these ones that You love and have given Your life for.

If there are those listening and watching whose hearts are being opened in this moment to allow You in to their life – come and fill them right now with the most amazing love and forgiveness and healing and salvation that only You can give.

We ask these things in the precious name of Jesus.

Amen.


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