Monday, May 7, 2018

Go Serve

Introduction
            Jesus told his disciples, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19)  In other words, I will make you into the kind of people who attract more and more people to be part of God's Kingdom.  Jesus spent three years giving the disciples on the job training, and then in in Matthew 28:19-20, he commanded all his followers:  “Go and make disciples of all the nations.”  This is an essential element of the Christian faith; not optional. We might think following Jesus is about being better people, getting more discipline, finding hope, salvation, or peace.  All these are benefits of following Christ, but Jesus said he wants to make us fishers of men.  He didn't say he wanted to make us better people.  He said, "I will make you fishers of men."
            It scares some people to think about telling others about Jesus.  Perhaps you get the image of a Jehovah's Witness going door to door trying to force their religion on people.  But that's not what it's about at all.  Fishing for people is not as hard or scary as you think.  It is simply saying what Jesus means to you. 
            This week, I used Uber for the very first time.  It was an easy way to get to and from the airport in San Antonio.  The Uber driver was friendly and we talked for the twenty minute ride to the hotel.  He asked me what I did for a living and I told him I was a pastor.  That got us on the subject of religion and he showed me a picture of Jesus he kept on the instrument cluster of his dash. He said, "I love Jesus.  One time I had someone accuse me of worshipping an idol because I have the picture and they thought it was Buddha, but it's Jesus!"  He went on to say he didn't believe in idols.  He said, "I don't believe a statue--something people make with their own hands--can do anything for you.  They have no power."
            I agreed and then I shared how we are made in the image of God.  We talked about how humans are uniquely different from all creation--even animals--because we have the ability to think and reason and the free will to choose our actions.  We are the image of God; the only ones authorized by God to represent Him and Jesus helps restore that image that is broken by sin.
            Now, I didn't get in that Uber driver's car with a prepared "Jesus-pitch."  I was just looking for a ride, but God gave me the opportunity and I took it.  He brought a middle eastern Uber driver in Texas and an American Pastor from Georgia together for a twenty minute conversation and steered us onto the subject of faith.  So I went with it.  How about you?  When and how could you talk about Jesus?  How could you cast your fishing nets out and fish for people?
            The process for making disciples at my church follows is the same pattern Jesus used in the
Bible.  1) It all start with relationships.  I didn't have a deep relationship the Uber driver, but I built on the small relationship we had and went with it.  Sometimes, the deeper your relationship, the greater your opportunity to invite someone to Jesus.  2) Next, people come in through a gate to see Jesus (an opportunity to come to church and be with Jesus).  3) Then we go deeper; we move from a conversation or an interest to a commitment.  4) We go out and serve.  And it doesn't end there.  The cycle continue as we build more relationships, invite more to come in, go deeper, and go out and serve.  And it goes on and on.
            Here’s an example on how Jesus invited Levi (A.K.A. Matthew, the writer of the Gospel of Matthew) to be his disciple:

Luke 5:27-32
27 Later, as Jesus left the town, he saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at his tax collector’s booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. 28 So Levi got up, left everything, and followed him.
29 Later, Levi held a banquet in his home with Jesus as the guest of honor. Many of Levi’s fellow tax collectors and other guests also ate with them. 30 But the Pharisees and their teachers of religious law complained bitterly to Jesus’ disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with such scum?”
31 Jesus answered them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. 32 I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent."

Nobody Likes Tax Collectors
            Nobody likes tax collectors.  That's true today (I hope you all got your taxes filed last month!).  Tax collectors were even more despised in Jesus' day and here's why.  The Israelites were conquered and ruled by the Roman Empire.  The Jews, as God chosen people, didn't like being ruled by a foreign, heathen nation.  And they especially didn't like having to pay taxes to them.  What made it worse was the Romans recruited Jews to collect the taxes from their own neighbors and the Romans might say to the Jewish tax collector, "You have to collect $10,000 from this neighborhood for us." (I'm just making up the numbers here as an example.  These figures have no historical value.)  They say, "Now, you have to pay us $10,000 for this neighborhood, but you can collect as much as you want.  You pay us $10,000 and you keep the rest."  So the unscrupulous Jewish tax collectors would often collect 2 or 3 times as much taxes as they were supposed to and pocket the rest as a huge profit.  They were getting rich at the expense of their own countrymen and they used the Roman soldiers to enforce their extortion.
            Levi (A.K.A. Matthew) was one of those hated tax collectors.  And Jesus invited him to be a disciple.  And Matthew left it all and follow Jesus, to be a "fisher of men."  Matthew wasted no time to start fishing.  He started right away.  He held a banquet for Jesus and invited all his friends to dinner.  You see, fishing for people doesn't have to be complicated.  It can just be a dinner or a hiking trip or a conversation during an Uber ride.
            Matthew's dinner relays an important principle about fishing for people.  Sometimes new converts, new followers, new church members are poised as much or more than anyone else to introduce their friends to Jesus.  Don't wait until you feel you've "matured enough" or got some training.  Just do it!  Do it now!  Do it from the very beginning.  If a tax collector can do it, so can you. 
            You have a unique ability to fish that no one else has.  Think about it.  I'm a preacher and have been one for eighteen years.  Almost everyone I know is already Christian (and probably a member of my church) or a preacher somewhere else.  I've already overfished my waters, but you have a rich fishing whole to tap into.  So go fish!

Go Serve
            And that brings me to our key idea today:  We grow when we go!  Let’s face it, we usually start out with Jesus for less than noble reasons.  Maybe we started coming because someone dragged us to Jesus (like our parents or spouse).  Or maybe we came because we were desperate and we thought maybe Jesus could help. 
            I knew a man once who was quite honest about it.  He said he started coming to church because his father was very sick and he promised God he would start going to church every Sunday if God made his father better.  His father got better, so the man started faithfully attending church.  Now, his faith grew much deeper as a result, but it started out as a bargain he made with God. 
            I became a Christian at the age of eight for the very self-serving reason that I wanted to go to heaven and avoid hell.  My children's pastor explained it very clearly to my 8-year-old ears: We have sinned and the consequences of sin is death, but Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sins.  If we trust Jesus as our Savior and Lord, we go to heaven.  If we reject him, we go to hell.  Well, that was an easy choice for me.  I chose Jesus (and heaven).  Now, my faith has grown so much deeper than that in the last 36 years.  But it was a selfish, petty thing in the beginning.
            And that's the way it is for many of us.  We start very shallow, but as we go deeper with Christ, his love inspires us and overwhelms us.  We feel the (sometime troubling) conviction to serve.  The Holy Spirit gives us all the ability to serve.  And each of us is uniquely positioned to serve in ways that no one else can--because of our personal life experience, our abilities, and our connections.  If we don’t serve, the Body of Christ will not function correctly; the mission will suffer.  So we take a leap of faith and serve.  And, glory to God, there is nothing like fulfilling your God-given role.  It is a blessing to those you serve and it is twice the blessing for you.
            One of the things I hear people ask most is: "How do I know what God wants me to do?  If I just knew what my calling was, I would be glad to serve."  Well, I have an answer for you.  Thanks to the wonder of the internet, there is a simple and easy way for you to explore how the Holy Spirit has gifted you so you can find ways to serve that fulfill God's calling for you.  Click this link to complete a free, short survey that will indicate what is your spiritual gift(s) and explains what they mean and how you might use them to serve.

Challenge
            Throughout this series of messages, I've tried to challenge you to be a fisher of men (or women).  I challenged you to choose three people you can mentor this year (pray for them, help them, be a friend to them, and encourage them).  I also challenged you to consider how you could go deeper in your relationship with Jesus this year (such as joining a Bible study or Sunday school, commit to daily Bible reading, etc.).  Today, I want to add one more challenge.  How could you serve?  God gave you a specific spiritual gift so you can serve in the body of Christ, the Church.  Take the spiritual gifts assessment to find out your gift and then use it to go serve.  Now, go serve!