This Church Is In Your Hands
Some years ago, there was an older man who lived all alone up in the hills of eastern Kentucky. He was something of a recluse, but he was known throughout the region as “the wise old hermit of the hills”. Everybody talked about the remarkable mind and the vast wisdom this old man possessed. In fact, people said that he could answer most any question.
Well, that was too much for a group of teenage boys. They decided that they were going to stump the old man. They were going to give him a question he could not answer. The plan was simple. They would trap a small bird. Then they would go up to the hermit’s house. The ringleader of the boys would hold the bird in his hands, and they would ask the wise old man if the bird were alive or dead. If the old man pronounced the bird dead, the boy would open his hands and let the bird fly away; and if the old man said the bird was alive, the boy would instantly squeeze the life out of the bird.
Their plan was perfect, the boys thought. It was a sure thing. They were going to stump this old fellow and humiliate him. And so the boys caught a bird and went up to the old hermit’s house. When the old man came out of the house, the ringleader stepped forward and said: “We understand that you can answer any question with great wisdom. I have a bird in my hands. My question is this: Is the bird alive or is he dead?” The other boys crowded around, excited about the opportunity to trick the old man and eagerly looking forward to bragging about their brilliant trap. The old man stood silent for a moment, then he reached out his hands, put them on the leader’s shoulders, looked the boy straight in the face and said: “It is as you will it, my son; it is as you will it. The answer is in your hands.”
That’s a great parable for us to think about this time of the year when we are preparing to make our financial commitments to underwrite the work of this church for the next year. My question is: Is our church alive and well? The answer is in your hands! What kind of church will we be in 1998? The answer is in your hands! Is our church ready to move into the future with strength and power and wisdom? The answer is in your hands! Are we ready to give our best to God because He gave His only Son for us? The answer is in your hands.
In Matthew 28, after the resurrection but before Jesus returned to heaven, Jesus met with the disciples in Galilee and He said to them: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the close of the age.” Now that well-known, dearly loved passage in Matthew has been referred to as “The Great Commission”. Jesus was commissioning His followers to spread the Good News of the Gospel everywhere. Jesus was saying to His followers then and to His followers now: “Look, I’ve done my part. Now I want to hand it off to you. It’s your turn. I will be with you, but the responsibility is yours. You take up the torch. My church is in your hands!”
Today, then, I want to call on us to make a great commitment to that Great Commission. Not long ago, I was at a party and a woman came up to me and she said: “I just love to hear you preach because you’re so simple!” I think she meant that as a compliment. Life can be so complex these days that sometimes we do need to deal with the basics. So at the risk of sounding “simple” today, I want to underscore the importance of supporting the work of Christ’s church by focusing on two simple statements: We need the church. The church needs us. Now take them one at a time.
We need the church.
We are living in a time in history when there is an incredible spiritual hunger abroad in the world. Everywhere around us in our culture, we hear people crying out for spiritual answers to life’s most baffling questions. Not long ago, the conservative William Bennett wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal. Here is what he said:
“Our complacency about crime and violence in our society concerns me. For too long, we have allowed the deeper problems that underlie violence and other social ills to pass without comment. To be sure, there are places where virtue is taught and learned, but there is a lot less of that than there ought to be. There is too much coarseness, callousness, cynicism and vulgarity in our time. In my view, the crisis is spiritual. There is an undue concern for external affairs and worldly things and an absence of zeal for divine things. If we have material things but our children have not learned to walk in goodness, justice and mercy, then we will have failed. As individuals and as a society, we need to return religion to its proper place. Religion, after all, provides us with moral bearings.”
Interestingly enough, just a few days after Bennett’s article appeared, Hodding Carter, who represents the opposite end of the political spectrum from William Bennett, wrote a syndicated column applauding Bennett for what he had said and joining him in calling our nation back to the practice of faith and morality They are both right. We need the church today perhaps as never before.
One day when the noted artist, James Macneill Whistler, was at the apex of his career, a wealthy patron purchased one of his paintings on the condition that the artist would accompany him home to select the perfect spot to hang the picture. After they arrived at the mansion, the man held up the painting first here, then there, each time saying: “That’s not right.” Finally, after numerous attempts to find the perfect spot, Whistler said: “You are going about this all wrong. What you need to do is remove all the furnishings from the room. Hang the painting where it will be best displayed, and then arrange the furnishings in relationship to the painting.” Well, many people in our world today want God to be nothing more than just one of the furnishings, just one of the decorations. But the only way life works is for God to be the central focus, the commanding point of our existence. Now I know that we have a lot of diversity in our society. I understand that. I respect that. But I also know that in recent times we have been so afraid that we might offend someone or exclude someone if we talk about our faith, that we have practically excluded God. We have let the pendulum swing too far. We’ve got to swing it back. That’s why we need the church to affirm with boldness and firmness and clarity the truth as it is found in Jesus Christ.
And that’s why that hymn, “The Church’s One Foundation” is a hymn for our time. It was actually written in 1866 in England at a time similar to the time in which we are living. The society then was in moral disintegration and the great beliefs of the Christian faith were being watered down. But out in the poor sections of London, there was a small church pastor named Samuel Stone. He was a man of spotless character whose love for Jesus Christ led him to give his life ministering to the poor of that great city. He came to believe that the only hope for the society of which he was a part was to reclaim the core beliefs of the Christian faith. And so in 1866, he sat down and wrote twelve hymns, each one based on one of the twelve phrases of the Apostles’ Creed. He believed that if he could get people to sing those beliefs, they would start to live those beliefs. One of those twelve hymns, “The Church’s One Foundation” became the theme song for renewal of the church in the 19th century. It’s the only one of the twelve hymns we still sing, but it ought to be the theme song for the church in our time: “The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord!” Jesus Christ commissioned us to go into all the world, spreading His message everywhere. To do that, we need the church strong, powerfill, vital and dynamic. How do we make and keep the church strong? The answer is in your hands!
The Church needs us.
Jesus came into this world to redeem us and to redeem the world. He came to deliver us, to save us, to turn things around, to give us a new life and another chance, to transform what is bad into that which is good. He commissions us to join Him in that redeeming work. He calls us to go into the world and He promises to go with us. That means that when there is a problem, with the help of Christ, we can solve it. When there is a wrong, with the help of Christ, we can right it. Where there are hungry people, with the help of Christ, we can feed them. Where there is no hospital, with the help of Christ, we can build one. Where people are enslaved and oppressed, with the help of Christ, we can set them free. Where there are people living without Christ and dying for want of Him, with His help, we can win them. This is our task, our calling, our great commission.
Let me tell you about two people who have made a great commitment to that Great Commission. One is a name you’ve seen in the newspapers. The other is a person you never heard of. One is Barry Sanders. He is the running back of the Detroit Lions. He is regarded as one of the greatest runners of all time, and he is in the process of establishing some records which may never be broken. All of that you can read in the newspapers, but what you won’t read there is a description of his deep faith. Several years ago, when he signed his first pro-football contract his salary was set at 6.1 million dollars over a five-year period, and he was given a 2.1 million-dollar signing bonus. The bonus came in cash. Do you know what the first thing was that he did after he received the bonus money? He sat down and wrote out a check for $210,000, exactly 10% of what he had been given, and he mailed it to the little Baptist church in Wichita, Kansas, where he had grown up. To this day, he still does that with everything that comes his way. Ask him why he does it and he will say: “I want the world to know my Jesus.”
The other person is quite advanced in years. You’ve never heard of her. The people around her call her “Aunt Jane”. One day she called the church and got the receptionist and she said: “Would you please send a message to the business office for me? Effective immediately, I want my pledge to go up $1.70 a month.” The receptionist replied: “I will pass on the message, but is there a reason why you wanted it increased $1.70 a month?” Aunt Jane replied: “Because my social security check just came and it went up $17 a month.” Two people. One well-known, the other not. One with a lot; the other with a little. But both are making a great commitment to the Great Commission.
Jesus said: “Go into all the world.” Understand, please, that wasn’t just a make work project. He didn’t mean that we are to sit around and think about it and talk about it. He didn’t mean that we are to debate it or discuss it or delay it. He meant for us to make our own great commitment to the Great Commission.
I keep thinking of a little boy Fred Craddock tells about. His name was Jimmy and he was eight-years-old. He was about to begin playing Little League baseball for the first time. He could hardly wait. He kept badgering his mother about when practice would begin. She didn’t know. So he called the coach and asked. The coach said: “Next Tuesday afternoon at 5:00.” Jimmy said: “Great! I’ll be there, Coach, you can count on me!” Finally, Thursday came. At 4:00 it started to rain. By 4:30 it was a downpour. Jimmy’s mother, knowing how disappointed he would be, called out for him to comfort him. He didn’t answer. He had already jumped on his bicycle and headed for the ballfield. The practice field was on the school grounds and the coach lived right across the street. He looked out the front window of his home and through the pouring rain he saw a kid standing in a puddle where home plate had been. The coach said to his wife: “’There’s some kid over on the field in all this rain. I’d better go rescue him.” So he put on his rain gear and walked over to the field. “Jimmy”, he said, “what in the world are you doing here? We can’t practice in this rain.” Jimmy looked up at the coach and said: “I told you I’d be here, Coach. I told you that you could count on me.”
I wonder if Jesus Christ can count on you this next year. Can He count on you to underwrite this great church of His as we seek to fulfill His Great Commission?
The answer is in your hands.