A few years ago, when violence broke out between Israel and Lebanon, a certain famous preacher who shall go umentioned here immediately proclaimed that it was a sure sign the Second Coming was imminent. "His hand is on the door!" he gleefully and confidently intoned. Some of my church members at the time asked what I thought about that. In response, I scrapped my sermon plans for that week and preached a message about how God's people should respond to disasters in the world. I don't think Jesus would have us publically express joy about the suffering of others, simply because we think it's a foreshadowing of our own exit strategy from this sorry world. What does that communicate to the lost? Something like, "So sorry to hear that people are dying...but it's all good for us. We're heaven bound and you're not--whoopee!" Don't get me wrong, I am as excited about the return of Jesus as anyone. That is our true hope. But when Jesus was here in the flesh, He responded to human suffering with compassion, not glee. And His compassion--let us not forget--was more than mere emotional pity. It was action. So, I preached, our first question when we hear of "wars and rumors of wars," famines, earthquakes, and other disasters, should not be "is this a fulfillment of prophecy?" Christ will come back at the pre-determined time, and we won't see it coming in advance. Instead, our primary concern should be, "What can we do to show Christ's love in the midst of this?"
I bring this up because we have witnessed two devastating disasters in recent days, in Myanmar and in China. Incidents like this should provoke us to pray and seek to respond. Baptist disaster relief teams are already mobilizing to address these calamities (although they, like other relief agencies, are meeting much beauracratic resistance in Myanmar), and your offerings to WBC will help with these efforts. But these incidents should also remind us that there is suffering and lostness right near our doorstep, and God's people are uniquely gifted and called to make a difference.
In the last message in our series, "An Open Door Church," we'll look at the third step in our ministry process. We want to be an open door to know God through worship, and an open door to community through Sunday School. But if we stop there, our church will be entirely inwardly focused, offering ministry only to its own members. Our church would therefore be almost completely irrelevant to the people outside our walls. Instead, we must be An Open Door to Transform the World. That idea comes from something Jesus said to the Philadelphian Christians in Revelation 3:7-8, and from Paul's use of that "open door" imagery in 1 Corinthians 16:9, Colossians 4:3, and other places.
Admittedly, this is going to the be the toughest of the three steps for us at Westbury. How will we become this kind of church? What kinds of actions will we need to expect of our members? That's what we'll talk about Sunday.