Rev. Paul Scanlon came down to our church this weekend to share the Word with us.
Rev Paul Scanlon (Abundant Life Ministries)
Photo courtesy of http://alm.org.uk
This name did not strike a chord in me at all and I never realised how ‘close-related’ we were until Pastor Derek shared yesterday that he was from Abundant Life Church, which was in Bradford! It then struck me that this was the church which I really wanted to visit when I was in Leeds, having heard testimonies of its growth and also the programmes that it had. I never had a chance to do so due to my own church commitments there, and to think God arranged it in such a way that I still got a chance to meet him all the way back here in Singapore! God is good indeed.
In his message, which was more like an extended testimony of his church-growth, the main point he was trying to drive home is this –
God is an all-inclusive God; and yet as a church, we are not always an all-inclusive church!
Amen to that indeed!
He shared with us about how his church was experiencing stagnancy because all the people were too comfortable in church. The church consisted of people who were all white and middle-class, with secure jobs and for a long time, it never reached out to those in the community who were ‘different’ from them.
God laid upon Paul Scanlon a desire to reach out to others in his community, in the inner-city. Now, I know what kind of city Bradford is like – and I have heard numerous stories about the kind of people who are there, so I knew perfectly well what he meant when he described the kind of people he was eventually bringing to the church.
He started a bus ministry, where there would be people driving buses around the neighbourhood, bringing those who wanted to come to church to his church. When that began, it started to attract many from the inner-city who were different from the usual church congregation to his church. Many blacks started to attend the church – big-sized, burly looking blacks who looked intimidating, criminals on probation started to come and even transvestites started to come here. The church congregation began to feel uncomfortable – and many started to complain to the pastor about how these people were corrupting ‘our church’ – making it no longer a safe place to be in. Yet Rev. Scanlon held firm in his conviction that the church needs to be an all-inclusive one – it needs to reach out to those who are different, and not just similar to us. We need not be so concerned about protecting our church and truly go out and bring these people who are different into our church.
What an simple yet revelatory message this was to me, and I believe it is a message that speaks to all our church members too.
At the end of the message, Ps. Derek ‘admonished’ the church a little, telling us of incidents where newcomers come and are unable to find a seat because of cell groups booking seats. These newcomers walk around, unable to find a seat, because all have been reserved. When I was on usher duty too, I experienced an unhappy member of the congregation too – who came personally to me to complain about this in a very severe manner, telling me that we really have to change this system of ‘booking seats’ in our church.
However, I felt that this booking of seats matter is simply just touching on the tip of the iceberg of an even more deeply rooted problems in the church. Without going into any details, I have had encounters too, of people being ‘rejected’ in the name of protecting the church. And it has been discouraging.
What Rev. Paul Scanlon shared was so true – Jesus abandoned the 99, to go in search of that 1 – to find that lost sheep, and bring him back.
I took a look again at the parable of the lost sheep and it brought more revelation to me – Luke 15:4-7.
Searching for the lost sheep
The parable in Luke 15 emphasizes that the man leaves the 99 in the wilderness to go in pursuit of that one which is lost until he finds it. These were the two points that really stood out to me.
The first point is that the man left the 99, well aware of the potential dangers of him going in search of that one. Jesus did not huddle the 99 away safely in a nice pen, ensuring that these 99 sheep will not go astray and then go in search of that one – he left them in the wilderness.
This emphasized to me was the immediacy of Jesus’s action – He sees one sheep lost and in his one minded-focus on that lost sheep, he goes in pursuit of it. His focus was not on ‘protecting’ the ninety-nine sheep, ensuring their safety and preserving them, before finally going out to find that one.
Something else I believe – and this is my own interpretation of the parable and the counsel of God’s word – is that the man was secure that, however astray these 99 sheep went, they would not go as far off as that one which had no direction. In v. 7, it mentions that the 99 had ‘no need for repentance’ – meaning they had turned away from their own ways and were now following God. Regardless of how lost the 99 might have gotten in the wilderness, they now had the Lord to direct them and watch over them, whereas the one did not.
Furthermore, the shepherd not only left the 99 to search for the lost sheep. He went to search for it until it was found. Who knows how long that might have taken? The only thing the man knew was that his effort was immensely worth it. It brought him joy overflowing, such that he went out to the streets to proclaim to all to rejoice with him!
Now it just strikes me – how much of us really have that kind of heart for the lost? How many of us really have that firm conviction that the lost is what God calls us to pursue and how many of us have that similar joy too – that when we find someone lost, our joy overflows.
I need that heart of the shepherd for his lost sheep – that heart of ownership, that heart that celebrates together with Heaven over the finding of the lost sheep – a joy that supersedes anything that the world can give me. This Easter shall indeed be a breakthrough for me!