"Can you hear me now?" Good! This phrase from a cellular phone company has become a part of our culture. Actually, it became popular because it reflects our culture so precisely. We are a people who want to be heard! Yet, because everyone else is trying to be heard, communication is becoming more and more difficult. There is so much competition out there. We are bombarded with advertising and entertainment. People realize the competition, so in order to get our attention these things have become more garish and obscene just to get noticed.
We are constantly looking for new and novel ways to communicate with each other. And it keeps becoming less and less personal. A personal letter in the mailbox is rare but my email box stays full. I have yet to purchase a cell phone, but the pressure is on. When people ask for my cell phone number, they look at me in disbelief when I tell them I don't have one. I think sometimes they think I'm lying and just don't want to give my number out. But, no, I don't have one. I watch people walking around the church parking lot trying to get a signal. "How many bars do you have?" they ask me. "I've not been behind bars. I don't understand that language."
You should see what happens during the fifteen minute breaks we get during pastor's meetings at the Cohutta Springs Convention Center. A dozen pastors can be seen out in the front yard or up in the tower trying to get a signal because we must be heard.
When we were in Africa last year, out in the middle of nowhere working with the Masai, we felt the need to be heard by our loved ones back home. I remember borrowing a cell phone and standing on a termite mound, leaning over the Rift Valley, trying to hold the phone at just the right angle to pick up the Safari Com. So I dialed the number of my parents and it actually started to ring. Finally I got the right signal. "How am I going to talk into this thing?" And then the battery went dead. And, no electricity there. We were so desperate to be heard, we even tried to send an email from there. We used a laptop computer to write our message and then sent it up in a small plane to try to catch a cell phone signal. It never got through. There was a since of desperation to be heard. Not for any real reason. It is just really important to stay in touch with those we love. We needed to stay in touch with those that we love. Another familiar phrase from the phone company: "Reach out and touch someone."
We, in the Lord's army, have been given marching orders. We have been commissioned to be heard. We have been told to give the Good News to all peoples. Can they hear us now? How, in these days of super busy people who are in communication overload, can we be heard? I often hear the letters: WWJD? What does that stand for? What Would Jesus Do? That is a good question to ask, but I have a better one: "HCYAWJWDIYDKWHD?" Or "How Can You Ask What Jesus Would Do If You Don't Know What He Did?" In other words, if we wish to do as Jesus would do, we need to find out what He did?
Turn with me to Matthew 20:29-34. As Jesus and His disciples were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed Him. Two blind men were sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was going by, they shouted, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!"
The crowd rebuked them and told them to be quiet, but they shouted all the louder, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!"
Jesus stopped and called them. "What do you want me to do for you?" He asked.
"Lord," they answered, "we want our sight."
Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed Him.
Now, turn with me to John 8:3-11. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing Him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with His finger. When they kept questioning Him, He straightened up and said to them, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground.
At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?"
"No one, sir" she said.
"Then neither do I condemn you." Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin."
Now, turn back to John 3:1-3. Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night, and said, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could preform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him."
In reply Jesus declared, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again."
Turn with me to Luke 6:6-11. On another Sabbath He went into the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was shriveled. The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched Him closely to see if He would heal on the Sabbath. But Jesus knew what they were thinking and said to the man with the shriveled hand, "Get up and stand in front of everyone." So he got up and stood there.
Then Jesus said to them, "I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?"
He looked around at them all, and then said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He did so, and his hand was completely restored. But they were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus.
Now, turn back to Mark 6:34-42. Have you picked up a thread yet? When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So He began teaching them many things.
By this time it was late in the day, so His disciples came to Him. "This is a remote place," they said, "and it's already very late. Send the people away so they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.
But He answered, "You give them something to eat."
They say to him, "That would take eight months of a man's wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?"
"How many loaves do you have?" He asked. "Go and see."
When they found out, they said, "Five and two fish."
Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. Taking the five loves and two fish and looking up to heaven, He gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then He gave them to His disciples to set before the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied.
How did Jesus reach people? We have just read stories from all four Gospels about this. But is it important to know? After all, that was then, this is now. They didn't have cell phones and computers and television. How do we reach people in this modern day?
Ellen White, in the book Ministry of Healing page 143, says this: "Christ's method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Savior mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, 'Follow Me.'"
Two important words in this quote: Alone and Then. What was Christ's method? He met the felt needs of the people and then they followed Him.
In Matthew 20 we read about the blind men. What did they need? They needed to see! Before they could see spiritually, they needed to get past their felt need. Jesus didn't tell them to "Get over it" or even "Hang in there fellas." If He had, they would have forgotten about Jesus and spent the rest of their lives holding out a tin cup and accepting pity. Maybe I don't have the kind of faith that can heal a blind man, but I can be of greater service than just pity.
In John 8 we read about a woman caught in adultery. What did she need? She needed protection and acceptance and forgiveness. Jesus could not show her a better way until He had won her love. So many are quick to condemn but slow to love. Shame on us. We can't expect people to follow us to Jesus if we have just kicked them in the gut with condemnation. God did not call us to be policemen enforcing the law. He called us to be lovers of law breakers. There is a time to call sin by its right name but only after the sinner has been loved unconditionally!
In John chapter 3 we read about Nicodemus. What did he need? Spiritual council, someone that could speak to his heart, to be born again. He did not need to be condemned for being a coward, for being sneaky about searching for truth only after dark. He did not need arrogance from someone that feels that their way is the only way. He was part of such a group himself. Jesus gently opened his mind and his heart in love, and gained a follower.
In Luke 6 we read about a group of Pharisees. What did they need? They needed to have a look at their own motivations for being so "Holier than thou." Jesus showed them these things by being a help to the man with the withered hand. They made the choice of pride to not follow Jesus. Many today, when they have their authority or pet beliefs challenged, would rather follow pride than Jesus. But He lovingly gives each that choice.
In Mark 6 we read about the feeding of the 5000. What did they need? It depends upon when the question is asked. First, they needed to hear the teachings of Jesus. That is why they were there. But as the day progressed, their needs changed. Their stomachs started growling and drowning out the words of Jesus. Their needs for teaching changed to their needs for eating. Jesus met this need so that He could once again meet their need for teaching. People's needs change and we continually need to meet them and continually say, "follow me."
Jesus taught His disciples this very thing. Look at Luke 10:8, 9. The disciples are about to be sent on an evangelistic crusade, a tour. "When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, 'The kingdom of God is near you.'
Notice what Jesus said. Heal first, then tell about God. Meet their needs and then share with them the answer to their greater need. This is not an evangelistic trick. It is the method of someone who truly cares about the people around them. This does not deny the validity of various modern forms of communication and evangelism with people. But the motives should always be to meet the needs of the people we touch. Then, we can say Follow Me.
Shortly after WWII came to a close, Europe was in an uproar. Things had been destroyed and families had been torn apart, and they began picking up the pieces. City after city had the same sight: bombed out buildings, starving orphans in the streets. Perhaps the saddest sight of all was that of the little orphaned children starving, and nobody knew who they were, who they belonged to.
Early one chilly morning an American soldier was making his way back to the barracks in London after a day of duty. He rounded a corner and spotted a little boy with his nose pressed to the window of a pastry shop. Inside, the baker was kneading dough for a fresh batch of doughnuts. The hungry boy stared in silence, with his nose pressed against the window, drooling and watching the cook's every move with a hungered look. The soldier saw the doughnuts that had already been made and he looked at the little boy and said, "Son, would you like some of those?" The boy was startled. "Oh yes, I would." The American stepped inside when he came out he held a bag with a dozen doughnuts. He handed them to the boy and said, "Here, you can have these." He turned and started to walk away, but in three steps he felt a little tug on his caot and he looked back and there's the child with his dirty face looking up at him and asking quietly, "Mister, are you God?"
When we meet the needs of others, who shines through? God shines through us.
We all have needs, whether they be physical, mental, or spiritual. We have been given gifts to help each other meet those needs, whether it be someone sitting next to you, or someone who should be sitting next to you. Whether it be your neighbor or someone at work or school. We can be of help to someone, each of us individually, to help someone individually because we truly care.
According to the first volume of the Testimonies for the Church, "A church is a group of individuals who care about others and have come together to join forces to meet the needs of many. It must be organized as an army to accomplish this or else the angels, who are thoroughly organized and move in perfect order, cannot work for us successfully. Satan knows that success can only attend order and harmonious action and thus does his best to deceive the people of God to believe that an organized church must be an uncaring church. But the blame cannot rest upon organization but upon people who are uncaring."
A group of caring individuals who are organized to care for the community, together with the angels, are a force that Satan cannot deal with!
In order to meet the needs of the people, we must know what those needs are. In order to know what those needs are, we must know those people. Jesus mingled with people because He loved them. He ate with IRS agents, tax collectors. He went to the homes of hypocrites. He hung around with people of bad reputation. He loved people. Even though Jesus mingled with sinners, He remained true to God. That is why people trusted Him with their burdens. He didn't become like they were, He just loved them. They felt free to tell Him of their needs because they knew Him. Becaue they knew Him, He felt free to show them a better way.
We try to bring people to meetings by sending out beautifully done brochures. But only six to eight percent of the population will even read unsolicited religious materials. Much fewer will actually follow through on the invitation. That means that ninety-two to ninety four percent don't feel the need. That six to eight percent is important but how much better is it to make friends of everyone we can, meeting their needs, and then saying "Follow Me." As I've watched various evangelistic meetings, do you know who are baptized mostly? People that we already knew! People that we made friends with. Our neighbors. Very rarely is it somebody who just got a brochure in the mailbox.
There are ways to find out the felt needs of people other than getting to know them. I have done surveys at county fairs. I've done surveys in neighborhoods asking about people's needs. In fact we did a survey in the community around us one time. It was on Valentines' day. We took a loaf of bread and we did a survey to every home. We compiled the surveys and the list of needs was great. Usually the needs were things like weight loss, nutrition, how to stop smoking, stress management, time management, parenting skills. And on rare occasions someone will mention a need to understand spiritual matters. But knowing their needs does not mean that they will necessarily come to us to have them met. We surveyed this community and then we started designing seminars to meet the needs that we had identified. And then we sent personal invitations and even made phone calls to the various people that had said "yes" I need. And not one person that we had sent and invitation to came to any seminar.
And I asked myself "Why?" I believe the answer is, they didn't know us enough to trust us. We must be a part of the community before we can invite the community to be a part of us.
My neighbor is of another denomination. Should I receive a brochure from his church, it will probably end up in the trash. But, if he has just been over and helped me dig a ditch, and invites me to a meeting, then I will be a whole lot more interested in coming. Why? Because if he has been helping me, I know that he cares. I am much more trusting of someone who cares about me than of a brochure with an address label that thinks my name is "Current Resident."
When I can see someone who lives like they teach, I am interested in what they have to say. If someone invites me to a health seminar with a beer in their hand, I'm skeptical. When someone invites me to their church that they don't even attend half the time themselves, I'm skeptical. When we tell our own kids to go to Sabbath School and we don't even go to our own class, they are skeptical. When someone invites me to a course on raising children and their own children are beating each other up, I'm skeptical. In other words, if we want to be able to say "follow me to Jesus," people must be able to see that we follow Jesus ourselves.
A rather pompous and self-righteous Sunday School teacher was trying to make the point that good Christians don't keep their faith a secret. With her head held high, the teacher strutted impressively back and forth across in front of her junior class. She asked, "Now, class, why do you think people call me a Christian?"
The room was silent for a few moments. Then she repeated the question, "Class, why do you think people call me a Christian? Then one of the boys slowly raised his hand. "Yes, Johnny. Why do think [people cll me a Christian?" And he timidly said, "Probably because they don't know you."
By the way, did you all celebrate yesterday? I did. Don't you know what February 18 commemorates? In 1930, on that day, people saw the first flying cow! That's true! She was actually taken for an airplane ride and milked en route for some kind of publicity stunt. February 18, 1930. Now, I don't know the results. Did people buy more airplane tickets, did they buy more beef, or did they buy more milk? No one seems to know.
We don't have to resort to grand schemes to bring people to Jesus, to get their attention. No publicity stunts are necessary. The results will be noticeable.
It is actually quite simple and quite important. So important that Jesus tells us something special in Matthew 25:31-40, "When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all of the angels with Him, He will sit on His throne in heavenly glory. All the nations shall be gathered before Him, and He will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on His right and the goats on His left.
"Then shall the King say unto those on His right hand, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you from since the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison, and you came to visit me.'
" Then the righteous will answer Him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed You, or thirsty and gave You something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and cloth You? When did we see You sick or in prison and to visit You?'
"The King will reply, "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for Me."
When we do those things, people will know that they can call us Christian. When people know that we are genuine, when they know that we truly care, when we meet the needs of those around us, then, and only then, can we invite them to Jesus. The results will take care of themselves.
When we say, "Can you hear me now?" The people will say, "Yes!" And God will say, "Good!"
Hymn of Praise: #43, When Morning Gilds the Skies Scripture: Luke 10:8, 9 Hymn of Response: #355, Where Cross the Crowded Ways of Life
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last updated February 19, 2005 by Bob Beckett and Eric Koester.