When is a church ready for numerical growth? Some will say when we have a welcome teams in place. Yep, that’s important. Some will say when we have the music balance just right. Yep, I can see that. Some will say when we have a great pastoral care system up and going. Yep, I couldn’t agree more. Some would argue that we are ready when people’s hearts are ready.
I’m just wondering if we would ever be ready?
Let me personalize it a bit more. When will you ready for what God has in store for you? When will you be ready for doing God’s will next for your life? When I finish my studies, when my kids are off my hands, when I get out of debt, when I feel more equipped, when I feel better.
Let me tell you, some of our revered biblical heroes weren’t ready when God called them. What about Moses. He was raised in Pharaoh’s court, learnt the ways and the language and the insights of the superpower of the day. But when God spoke to Moses, in Exodus 3, Moses had now moved away from Egypt in fear, and was living in hills, married and with kids. God tells Moses that He has heard the cried of His people – the Hebrews – and now is the time for them to be set free from their oppressive slavery. And God told Moses that He wanted him to rescue them.
Moses, who had fled Egypt in fear of his own life, was now being asked to go to Pharaoh asking him to set God’s people free. Moses clearly wasn’t ready! I mean, it would be like an escape Germany Jew being asked to go back to Germany asking Hitler to set free the Jews. Who would be ready and willing to do that? And yet God says to Moses in Exodus 3:10, “Now go, for I am sending you to Pharaoh. You must lead My people Israel out of Egypt”(Exodus 3:10 NLT).
Moses, who felt like a lamb being led to his slaughter, told God three times why he wasn’t ready. First, in Exodus 4:1, Moses told God that they might listen to him or believe in him. Second, in Exodus 4:10, Moses told God that he has never been an eloquent speaker. Third, in Exodus 4:13, Moses showed that he wasn’t ready when he begged God to send someone else. With each excuse, God answered how He would support Moses. Moses felt that he wasn’t ready and yet God still called him.
I don’t know about you, but often we will never feel ready when God calls you and we as a church, to step up, to move forwards, to do things that we don’t feel ready to do.
When God called me to ministry, I wasn’t ready, I was too young.
When I was at Bible College, Harry Quick, a fellow student was close to retirement when God called him. He wasn’t ready. He was too old.
When William Wilberforce’s proposed law to eradicate African slavery throughout the British colonies continued to be knocked back by fellow Members of Parliament he felt too defeated and not ready with his failing health to persevere.
Our reading this morning is one of those challenging ones. At face value, it seems that Jesus demands on His followers are quite out there! A man comes up to Jesus in verse 57 and says to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go”(Luke 9:57 NIV). Good for Him! What a guy! BUT, instead of patting this guy on the back Jesus instead starts by saying something about the Son of Man has no place to live. Perhaps, Jesus was saying, are you really ready to follow me, you’ll be sleeping under the stars? Then in verse 59, Jesus asked another man to follow him, but he wanted to go to his father’s funeral. Fair enough but Jesus said, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God”(Luke 9:60 NIV). Then another said to Jesus, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family” (Luke 9:61 NIV). Again, Jesus said back to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62 NIV). Both these statements seem harsh.
The point that Jesus was making was not that you can’t attend funerals nor say good bye to love ones. What He was saying is that often people will have reasons why not to serve God.
I’ll tell you what, there are some pretty good justifications for those who want to hold back their lives because you "not being ready."
I know you got that one sin you can't get over. You'll be ready when you conquer that. No.
I know you got that debt that you're going to pay down that will take you about four years, then you will be ready for generosity.
You'll be able to speak into someone else's life when you know more of the Bible.
You'll be ready to make a difference in your community when our church has more resources, more instruments, and more musicians… and [then] you'll be ready," he said.
If ever there was a person who felt that he wasn’t ready to do the cause of Jesus it would be Peter. For most of Peter’s 3-years with Jesus, we get the impression that he was the outspoken, self-appointed leader of those 12-disciples. After all, Peter was with Jesus when He was transfigured on that mountain which only the inner circle was invited to experience (Mark 9:2); Jesus told Peter that he would be an influential figure in the early church (Matthew 16:18); it was Peter who walked on water (Matthew 14:29); and it was big brave Peter who tried to defend Jesus by cutting off an ear of a servant to the High Priest that came to arrest Jesus. Peter was ready BUT then Peter and his ego and brashness came crushing down on that night when he denied knowing Jesus on three occasions. As he saw Jesus being taken away by the authorities, Peter followed Him from a distance. A woman, on seeing Peter, said that he was with Jesus. Peter said that it wasn’t him. Then another made the same comment about Peter being with Jesus to which Peter quickly denied the claim. Then, an hour later, another person told others about Peter’s association with Jesus, and again Peter completely denied knowing Jesus. At the moment Jesus turned and looked straight at Peter and Peter remembered what Jesus said to him, that before the rooster crows, Peter would deny Jesus three times.
And with that, Luke wrote what Peter did next, “And he went outside and wept bitterly”(Luke 22:62 NIV). This was the same man who only a few hours earlier made a promise to Jesus. He promised Jesus: “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death”(Luke 22:33 NIV). He was ready! A few hours later, Peter was no longer ready.
The worst was to come. Jesus, his friend and Lord had been put to death by the horrors of crucifixion. Friday and Saturday were very dark days for Peter. He not only denied Jesus but witnessed His death. His world had come crushing down. Being ready for the cause was no longer an option. The cause itself was dead.
We know that Peter’s faith soared again when Jesus resurrected back to life. IN fact, for the next week Jesus had appeared physically to Peter (and the others) on at least three occasions. But there was some unfinished business between Peter and Jesus. For whatever reason, Jesus did not raise the issue with Peter. Maybe Jesus was waiting for Peter to raise the issue of that night? According to John 21, it was at the third occasion when Jesus was eating with the disciples that he raised the issue with Peter. Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved him. The first time, in verse 15 Jesus said, "Do you love(Greek agape: volitional, self-sacrificial love) me more than these?"The second time, in verse 16, Jesus focused on Peter alone and still used the word translated into Greek, agape. The third time in verse 17, Jesus used the word translated into Greek, phileo (signifying affection, affinity, or brotherly love) and asked, in effect, "Are you even my friend?" Each time Peter responded with the word translated into Greek as phileo. Jesus doesn't settle for quick, superficial answers. He has a way of getting to the heart of the matter. Peter had to face his true feelings and motives when Jesus confronted him. How would you respond if Jesus asked you, "Do you love me? Do you really love me? Are you even my friend?"
Each time, when Peter said yes, Jesus told him to feed His lambs. Jesus was reinstating Peter. He was broken and not ready to build Christ’s church, but God has a habit of using broken people for His cause who are dependent on Him. And God used Peter mightily in the commencement of His church.
God doesn't call when we feel ready. He calls us to follow Him. To be obedient. Step out. Have faith. Move forward.
The disciples weren’t ready to feed the thousands that had gathered. They only had five small loaves of bread and two small fish. But Jesus took what they had, blessed it, and multiplied them feeding everyone who was there.
We may not feel ready with our skills or our time or our age, but God takes what we do have and multiplies it for His glory.
In 2012, as I was driving from Canberra to Sydney to attend a conference, a received a call from this church asking if I would be willing to consider a call to minister at Reedy Creek Baptist Church. Leisl and I were already starting to think that perhaps God was calling us of out from our ministry in Canberra. Throughout the conference I was thinking, am I ready? Am I ready to move on from a very happy and successful ministry? Was I ready to move away from my daughter who wanted to stay in Canberra? Was I ready to move further away from my family in Sydney? Selling a house, buying a house, moving, finding new friends, doctors, was I ready? Not really?
During the conference, one of the guest speakers who I don’t rate that highly, spoke something about his life. Steven Furtick said that a sentence from the book Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, gave him the inspiration to start a church. This was the sentence: “I despaired at the thought that my life might slip by without God moving greatly on our behalf”. Furtick said. "The Lord used that one sentence because when the word of the Lord comes to you like it came to Jeremiah, it doesn't have to say much to do a lot. In one sentence God put a desire in my heart – 'one day you're going to start a big church to reach a lot of people who are far from God in a big city somewhere in the United States of America.'"
But it was what Furtick said that really spoke to me. He said, “I've never been ready. I wasn't ready when we started the church. I didn't feel ready when the church started to grow, thousands of people were coming to Christ, but the church got bigger than the town I grew up in. I wasn't ready for that”. Today, Stephen Furtick is still the pastor of the Elevation Church that has over 20,000 members.
And God said to me, you may not feel that you are ready, but you are to go.
You may not feel ready with your skills or your time or your age, but when God calls, you are to obey and do.
On Channel 9 is the music series The Voice. I don’t watch it, but I’ve seen enough to know what happens. A lot of people spend their whole lives waiting on somebody to hit a button, turn around, and choose them. A lot of believers spend their whole walk with God performing, trying out, feeling bad, waiting on God to hit a button and turn around and say now He loves you. Friends, cancel the audition, you've already got the part. God said “…before you were born I set you apart…”(Jeremiah 1:5 NIV).
Last week the Leadership Team launched the process of discerning God’s Biblical Values f