The Spirit of Gentleness

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Yesterday morning, Brandon and I were walking through the farmer’s market downtown when suddenly before us was a man holding a gigantic sign. As people passed by, averting their gaze, he shouted out condemnations and warnings.

“Don’t return to church,” he said as I crossed his path, “Return to the Lord!”

Most of you haven’t met my husband because he is not a churchy person. He had some bad experiences with the church as a younger man and they have forever left an impression upon him. In many ways, he left the church because of people like the man who stood shouting in the middle of the street.

I don’t doubt for one second the sincerity or faithfulness of that man.

I don’t doubt that he is standing there in the street out of an honest desire to bring people to Jesus Christ and to share the message with salvation with them.

But today we are going to talk about not only the message, but the method for how we share God’s saving power with others, and how we should respond when that message falls on hostile ears.

For most of this summer, we have used various biblical characters to exemplify the fruits of the spirit that God has given for ministry. From the healing powers of Peter to the patience of Esau, these ancestors of our faith have been witnesses of how God equips us for ministry.

Today, we are going to learn from example what NOT to do.

As Andrea and Noah just shared with us, the prophet Elisha is a man of God, but he is also a very human being.

In a moment of frustration and embarrassment he lashes out at a group of young boys.

Every time I hear this story, I am reminded that this kind of conflict and tension between grumpy old men and rude young boys is timeless.

From Mr. Wilson in Dennis the Menace to the character of Walt Kowalski, played by Clint Eastwood, in Gran Torino we catch a glimpse of Elisha’s mindset in this story. Like Eastwood’s character, Elisha is overcome by recent grief, which only complicates his violent response.

But we also have seen the impertinence of those who jeer the elderly, mock the disabled or anyone different from them. Sometimes we try to excuse the behaviors, thinking that boys will be boys, but bullying in any form, at any age, is inexcusable and it hurts.
As I shared with the children, sometimes our first instinct to bullying or frustration is to push back – through words or actions.

And so many of us has let a curse slip out of our mouths in a moment of anger or pain.

Elisha is only human and that kind of response is understandable.

Yet, Elisha is also filled with the Spirit of God and he is new to the whole business of being a prophet. Just days before, his mentor Elijah had been carried away up into the heavens and the mantle of God had been left to HIM.

And Elisha doesn’t quite have this power of God figured out yet. He doesn’t understand, like the prophet Nathan did last week, that his ability has tremendous power to harm as well as help.

Aristotle once said that a person who displayed gentleness would be angry, “only on the right grounds, and against the right persons, and in the right manner, and at the right moment, and for the right length of time.”

Elisha let his anger get the better of him.

He might have been hurt because he had been teased, but these were children and rather than an “eye for an eye” – his curce called out bears from the woods and killed those children on the spot.

We can look firmly at his actions and state without a doubt they were anything BUT gentle.

The same Spirit of God filled the first disciples when they were sent out on their first steps of ministry. Jesus called them and gave them this charge in Matthew 10 and Luke 9:

“Go to the lost, confused people right here in this neighborhood. Tell them that the kingdom is here. Bring health to the sick. Raise the dead. Touch the untouchables. Kick out the demons…”

Along the way, they were sure to encounter their share of hostile glances and threats. He tells them to not be naïve, because “some people will impugn your motives, others will smear your reputation – just because you believe in me.”

So Jesus also added these instructions. Knowing that they were still new to this work of God, he told them:

“When you knock on a door, be courteous in your greeting. If they welcome you, be gentle in your conversation. If they don’t welcome you, quietly withdraw. Don’t make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and be on your way.”

We imagine they might have followed his advice and performed much better than Elisha had with this power of God within them… yet by the end of the chapter in Luke’s gospel the disciples have already forgotten that Spirit of Gentleness.

When a town will not welcome them, James and John turn and ask Jesus if they can call down fire from heaven to destroy the people.

Again, we discover rash, arrogant, and excessive behavior, which Jesus quietly rebukes and they move on.

So, what is gentleness and how are we supposed to live it out in our lives.

The The Full Life Study Bible defines gentleness as “restraint coupled with strength and courage.”

Aristotle says that it is halfway between excessive anger and indifference.

It is the kind of restraint that Nathan showed when he confronted David in our text from last week, the same that Paul tries to emulate as he writes to the Corinthians. He asks them: “What do you prefer? Shall I come to you with a whip, or in love and with a gentle spirit.” (1 Cor 4:21).

He could be angry. He could be harsh. As a teacher, he probably knew something about discipline… but he wanted them to repent and transform their lives not out of fear… but out of the love and gentleness that was shown to them.

Maybe that is why I am so troubled by the good and faithful folks who stand in the middle of the street at places like the farmer’s market, shouting out dire warnings at all who might walk by. Because I believe that change comes when we approach one another with a spirit of gentleness and not fear.

In John Wesley’s writing, we see that gentleness in his command to “do no harm.” As our former, Bishop Reuben Job reflected on that command, he writes: “I have found that when this first simple rule was remembered, it often saved me from uttering a wrong word or considering a wrong response.”

He adds, “this simple step, when practiced, can provide a safe place to stand while the hard and faithful work of discernment is done.”

Maybe that is the key. Gentleness invites us to take a step back and to determine proper response.

And I think that if we are faithful to the scriptures we will find that gentleness should be our response to the world.

In Luke, chapter 9, the disciples remember times when the power of God was unleashed on the people and on communities unwilling to repent or upon people who don’t appear to be on their team. They think that they might be justified in doing the same.

Maybe, they are even thinking back to the horrific mauling of those children by the prophet Elisha.

But “vengeance is mine” says the Lord (Deuteronomy 32:35).

And as Paul encourages us,
“Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”says the Lord. On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12: 19-21)

Jesus responds to the anger and pain of the disciples and gently rebukes them and in doing so, he shows us how we should respond when threatened or encountering injustice.

He is aware of the power of the Spirit that lives within him and he uses it to be gentle to those in need of transformation.

As Stanley Horton writes, “The broken reed He would not crush but would fully restore. The flickering wick of a lamp He would not put out but would cause it to burn brightly again… [Jesus] gently takes the sinner and makes him whole.” (http://enrichmentjournal.ag.org/top/fruit8_gentleness.cfm)

That man who stood there in the farmer’s market is correct in naming that there will be a time of judgment. After all, our God is great. God is strong and mighty and I truly hope that there will come a day when all things are made right and justice comes to those who have harmed and destroyed on this planet.

But I also know that only God knows how to unleash that power “on the right grounds, and against the right persons, and in the right manner, and at the right moment, and for the right length of time.”

And so the spirit of gentleness we are called to embody is to take a step back and allow that work to be God’s.

Elisha tried to be the judge, jury, and executioner when he encountered wrong in this world.

Instead, God’s spirit calls us to embody gentleness by remembering that we are all sinners.

We are all broken.

We are all filled with the power to lash out or shut out.

And way the message of God’s good news of saving grace is shared is just as important as the message itself.

For my husband, the words shouted out in the street did not open up new possibilities for God’s grace to enter, but probably closed him off even more.

As we live out a spirit of gentleness in this world, let us instead do no harm and in gentleness and love give God time to transform the lives we encounter.

Keep P.U.S.H.ing!

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My aunt Barb has been diagnosed and treating uterine and ovarian cancer for about two years now. She has been through a few rounds of surgery, chemo, and radiation. Some of it has been successful! Some of the cancer has returned. It has been an up and down journey, but she has had quite a few healthy months in the midst of it all.

Through everything, family and friends have been a huge support and together they have participated in Relay for Life the past two years.

As Team Triple B, their slogan is “Keep PUSHing”

For them, PUSHing means that you Pray Until Something Happens.

 

Pray Until Something Happens.

 

In these past six weeks, we have talked a lot about prayer. We started out by talking about prayer as group activity… something we do together. Pastor Todd talked about prayer as an intimate relationship with our parental God. Trevor invited us to think about prayer as something that is always hard and always necessary – a sweet devotion. Our guest preachers, Pastors Ted and Mara, have led us in a variety of disciplines and continued to stretch our thinking on how we practice prayer.

While I was away on leave, I spent every single morning in prayer. I wish I could say that I always spent every morning in prayer, but as Trevor so eloquently stated in his message, prayer is hard work.

Yet, on my renewal leave, my only real task was to pray. To pray for you. To pray for our ministries. To pray for God to guide me and us. And I read a lot about prayer as well.

One of the things that kept striking me is that we need to pray like we mean it.

We need to pray about those things in this world that we really want to change.

We need to pray until something happens!

 

In our gospel reading, Jesus was walking into Jerusalem and he passed by a fig tree. Even though it was out of season, he looked for fruit and didn’t find any. So he said, “No one will ever again eat your fruit!” The tree withered, dried up, and died within 24 hours.

Jesus prayed… and something happened!

Now, I’m going to be honest… this is a rather strange story that leaves us with all sorts of questions:

Why would Jesus punish the tree when it couldn’t help that it was the wrong season?

The scripture says he was really hungry… so maybe he was just really grouchy, like I often get when I haven’t eaten in a while…

Because, I mean, what kind of Jesus is this that arbitrarily causes things to die?

United Methodists don’t typically buy into the kind of prosperity gospel that says if you pray for what you want, you will get it.

We are fully aware that all kinds of faithful people pray for things like healing and miracles and help and the answers aren’t always what we want.

Maybe that is why even though it is a story mentioned in both Matthew and Mark, most of the cycles of scripture readings pastors use completely ignore this passage. We’d rather Jesus didn’t have this encounter with the fig tree.

 

Yet, the core of the message here… aside from the weird stuff with the fig tree… is repeated over and over again by Jesus.

Ask and it will be given to you.

Seek and you will find.

Knock and the door will be opened (Matthew 7:7-8 and Luke 11:9)

If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can move mountains… nothing will be impossible (Mt 17:20)

If we ask for anything in agreement with God’s will, God listens to us… we know that we have received what we asked from God. (1 John 14-15)

If we pray… stuff will happen! Not little stuff… BIG. GIGANTIC. POWERFUL. MOUNTAIN SIZED stuff!

That’s what scripture tells us.

That’s what Jesus keeps reminding us.

Prayer is powerful.

 

There is a important thing to remember in this power of prayer, however.

This power only works when our prayers are aligned with God’s will.

If I started praying for a bigger house today… I probably wouldn’t get it. Because that is not about God… its about me.

As 1 John puts it: If we ask for anything in agreement with God’s will, God listens to us… we know that we have received what we asked from God. (1 John 14-15)

Even in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed for what he wanted… but he ended that prayer: not my will, but yours be done.

What I love about my aunt’s prayer during this time  is that while she has all sorts of hopes and wants and desires for her treatment, their goal is for God’s will to be done.

They are going to Pray Until Something Happens.

That might be good news and healing. It might be deeper relationships.  It might not be the ending they want, but they are open to discovering God’s blessings and God’s answers along the way.

And through it all… they are going to pray.

 

I have found that we don’t hesitate to lift up prayers asking for healing. We are even pretty good at lifting up prayers of gratitude.

But there are things in this world that we are called to do and change and work towards… and we forget to pray about it!

We get so caught up in what we are doing that we forget to ask God to be a part of it. We keep thinking it is all about us.

And when we do so, we forget to tap into the mountain-moving power of prayer that is right there at our fingertips.

 

 

And that is what we need to do.

Last fall, we sat down and spent some time asking God what we were supposed to do here at Immanuel. And out of those conversations as leadership, we set some goals around places we have passion and we felt God was moving. Now… we need to pray about it.

We need to Pray Until Something Happens.

 

One of those goals was that we wanted to increase our visibility in the community… We want get to know our neighbors better… And our goal, our hope, is that those new relationships will mean there are 10% more people here in worship at the end of this year.

But you know what… we haven’t really prayed about it. We haven’t asked God to help us with this work. We’ve been trying to do it on our own.

 

Another goal we set last year was create space for people to serve here at Immanuel. We want to make sure that everyone is connected to some kind of ministry beyond Sunday morning. And one of the pieces of this goal is to encourage new people to embrace God’s gifts in their life and we wanted to find a place for 10 new people to serve on our ministry teams.

But we haven’t been praying about it. We haven’t asked God to help us.

 

And as the Iowa Annual Conference, we have this amazing new goal. As United Methodists, we want to make a significant impact on poverty in our communities and we think we can do something really big by addressing the opportunity gap in education. And so, we are being asked to get involved with an effort to distribute half a million books and to give a million hours of time over the next year. And it is a big and awesome and mountain sized goal and we are just getting started…

So you know what… we had better start praying for it.

 

In fact, we need to start praying for all of these things.

We are going to need God on our side if these things are going to happen.

If the world is going to change… if the kingdom is going to come… if God’s will is to be done, we need to ask for God to be involved.

We need to start praying until something happens.

 

As we leave worship today, you’ll find that there are some tables at the back with three different stations.

Each station relates to one of those goals I lifted up in the message this morning.

And at each station is a prayer card I want to invite you to take with you.

I want us to commit to praying for mountains to move.

I want us to commit to praying every day that God’s will be done in our midst.

 

You don’t have to pray for every single one of them… but pick at least one.

Commit yourself to prayer by name.

If we have at least 50 people here in the church praying for every one of these goals do you think God will hear us. Do you think God will sense we are not only people who care about these things, but we are ready for change. We believe. We have faith that God can make a difference here.

 

Ghandi once wrote:

If when we plunge our hand into a bowl of water,

Or stir up the fire with the bellows

Or tabulate interminable columns of figures on our book-keeping table,

Or, burnt by the sun, we are plunged in the mud of the rice-field,

Or standing by the smelter’s furnace

We do not fulfill the same religious life as if in prayer in a monastery,

The world will never be saved.

 

We may not share the same faith as Ghandi, but we all believe in the power of prayer. And Ghandi’s words remind us that prayer is not just for the super-religious, and prayer is not only for renewal leave… prayer is something we are supposed to be doing every second of every day of our lives.

 

We should be praying when we work.

We should be praying as we play.

We can be praying as we brush our teeth and drive to work.

We can pray at the dinner table.

We need to be praying everywhere, all the time, about everything.

 

And what I want you to do is take one of these prayer cards this morning and pray your heart out.

Put it on your bathroom mirror and pray it every morning.

Stick it in your car and pray before you get to work.

Take more than one if you want to, and put them wherever they might be a reminder to you.

Bring your prayers to breakfast and take turns each saying your prayer together.

 

Pray… even if your faith is as small as a mustard seed.

Pray that mountains might move.

Pray that kids might learn to read.

Pray that we might meet and grow with new people.

Pray that every person might find a place to connect and serve.

Pray.

Pray Until Something Happens.

We're Afraid to Ask

We don’t like to talk about money.

Pastors hate to preach on it.

Finance committees only do it because they have to.

We keep our records quiet and avoid tough conversations about budgets.

And when the time comes for mission work or important projects, we pass around the white buckets and pray someone gets inspired to put more than their pocket change inside.

Why are we so afraid to ask for deep commitment, for generous gifts, for extravagant response?

 

Volunteers sort dairy tubs for the Terracycle/Imagine No Malaria drive.
Volunteers sort dairy tubs for the Terracycle/Imagine No Malaria drive.

1. We segregate finances from other types of gifts. 

We do not ask those who have the ability to make music to hide their gifts or keep their names hidden.  We are not afraid to praise the talents of that cook in the congregation who makes the most excellent peanut butter pie… and might even have been found once or twice on our knees begging them to make it for the next church supper. The person who gives their time to repair items around the church gets their name in the bulletin. We celebrate the gifts God has given us and the way that people have graciously given them for the Kingdom of God.

Except for when it comes to dollars and cents.

I’ve discovered that money is not some great evil.  It is not the powerful, ominous thing we make it out to be.  It is a resource, a gift, not unlike our voices or our hands or our creativity.

I may have shared this before, but Henri Houwen writes:

Fundraising is, first and foremost, a form of ministry.  it is a way of announcing our vision and inviting other people into our mission….

We are declaring, “We have a vision that is amazing and exciting.  We are inviting you to invest yourself through the resources that God has given you – your energy, your prayers, and your money – in this work to which God has called us.” (A Spirituality of Fundraising, p. 16-17)

We have segregated the almighty dollar into it’s own category, rather than understanding it as one of many ways that people are able to respond, embrace, and participate in the work of the kingdom.

Through Imagine No Malaria, I have seen people give their time, carefully crafting beautiful creations we are selling to help support our work.  Folks lend their voice to the effort through being ambassadors and telling the story of our work.  Kitchens are busy with those who are baking and preparing for mission dinners and pancake suppers. Runners have covered countless miles with their feet to build support across the state for our work.  And people have opened their pocketbooks in response… eager to participate in the life-saving work of Imagine No Malaria.

Those dollars are vitally important. Without the financial resources we are gathering, we cannot do the life-saving work that is needed on the continent of Africa.

ALL of these gifts are kingdom work – healing the sick and preaching the gospel for hundreds of thousands of people.  All of them are ways for people to respond to the vision and join in the mission of God.

 

2. We aren’t good at evangelism

Nouwen writes that through asking…. through inviting those individuals, families, and organizations to give… we are in reality doing the work of evangelism and conversion.

Whether we are asking for money or giving money we are drawn together by God, who is about to do a new thing through our collaboration. To be converted means to experience a deep shift in how we see and think and act… By giving people a spiritual vision, we want them to experience that they will in fact benefit by making their resources available to us. (p. 17, 19)

A young girl in Colorado experienced that transformation when she caught the vision and was invited to give.  As other students added their dollars and change to the bucket at Vacation Bible School, she emptied her bank account and took the money she was saving for a doll and clothes and things she wanted and donated it instead to help save lives. 

When we fail to ask… when we fail to share the vision and invite people to participate in God’s work… we are denying them the opportunity to experience that kind of transformation.

Maybe one of the reasons we are afraid to step out and talk with others about participating in this project or in others is because we are so lousy at doing evangelism in the first place.

A Barna study revealed that the average United Methodist will invite only one person to worship with them every 38 years.  We just are not in the habit of talking about what our church is doing and asking people to join us in the first place.  So why would we expect things to be any different when it comes to money?

This past week, I got a call from a church in Mason City that is doing some outside the box thinking and invited the local blood bank to become a partner in this effort.

Folks in Carson invited their whole community to participate in a basketball game and raised $4000.

When we carry this message, this vision, this transformative promise out into our communities – we just might be stunned at the response. God is good and the Holy Spirit is at work if we are willing to get outside of our walls and ask.

 

fundraising3. We are willing to settle for small gifts

One of my colleagues with Imagine No Malaria refused to accept a pledge from a church.  It was a large, thriving church with a passion for mission and the ability to participate in a big way.  When they turned in a goal of $1000, my friend sent it back to the pastor and said, “We need to meet.”  He refused to let them sell themselves short because they had the potential for transformative ministry through Imagine No Malaria.

Most people, including myself, would be pleased as punch to get a pledge at all and wouldn’t have the guts to do such a thing.  But why not?

The demands of the gospel are not small.  The invitation to discipleship demands that we take up our cross and follow.  And yet we allow people to get by with weak offerings: in either time, energy, or dollars.

I bet your church, right now, has five people in it who could and would be willing to invest themselves in this kingdom-work by giving $1000… either all at once, or as a pledge over the next year or three.  I bet your community or your county has two businesses or organizations that would be willing to donate $2500 a piece if they were told about how this work is transforming lives in Africa and creating opportunities for community development and economic empowerment.

Too often we operate from a mindset of scarcity and cherish tiny offerings, instead of realizing that God has already abundantly provided.

 

 

Praying on an airplane

Friday I took an early morning flight home.  I had been in Nashville for a few days to train some new field coordinators for Imagine No Malaria and get refreshed myself on the latest info.

But that flight came early. My cab arrived at 4. I was done with socializing around 1. So… yeah, not enough sleep.

I got on my flight and crashed. I slept the whole way to Dallas and then shuffled my way through the airport.  I got to my gate and they started loading and I sat down and closed my eyes.

But behind me, this lady started talking to her seatmate. What the book/movie Fight Club calls a “single-serving friend”. In between dozes I heard them talking about work, and then family, and then struggles. As we started our descent into CR, she suddenly asked if she could pray with him. And they did, loud enough for others to hear, powerful enough that I was touched… as if the prayer were for me, too… and I had to whisper,  “amen.”

She shared her own stresses and they commiserated over lack of sleep… which was when the impact of her ministry really hit home for me.

This woman was just as tired as I was. But instead of cocooning herself on the side of the plane with only one seat (yeah, just one), like I did,  she saw every day, every plane ride, every conversation,  every single interaction as a place where God might use her. It is what we talk about often… and yet sometimes find it so hard to practice.  I found myself wondering how many opportunities for ministry I had missed, because I wasn’t looking.

I was so struck, that I found a way to walk off the plane and to baggage claim with her. And I told her I thought she was doing a really amazing thing. She was challenging me to think about how I live my faith everyday. I told her that what she just did is how we should all be living as disciples of Jesus Christ.

She shared her faith on a plane. Not by preaching, or apologizing, or through shouts or platitudes or tracts. But by listening and sharing… being in relationship with a “stranger” and then opening up the possibility of prayer. It was beautiful.

Making the Congregation Cry

This has been an insanely busy summer… vacation, a new nephew, mission trips, fundraisers, cleaning at the church…

So I have tried to make my summer a bit easier by working through Romans with the congregation.

Ha.

In some ways, it hasn’t been that bad.  Each piece kind of follows on the one before it, so I am continuing a train of thought about grace and mercy for us and others all summer long.

But last week, I combined chapters 9 and 10 and talked about how Paul was just aching in his bones with grief for his brothers and sisters who had rejected Jesus Christ.

I asked the church to think of their friends or family members who were resistant to the gospel or had left the church or had never been told about the good news of Jesus Christ.  I asked them to think about the people their own hearts ache for.

I know that there are many who have personally expressed to me concern about a loved one.  I have commiserated, having a husbad who isn’t really into God himself(see “Lost My Religion“).

But there was something about what the Holy Spirit did in that sermon that really moved people.  Everywhere I looked, people were wiping their eyes, trying not to tear up, or digging out a tissue.

I think there are so many people in this world who really want to share their faith and share the love of God and they just don’t know how.  They are afraid of rejection, they are unsure of their own story, and they “know” their family too well.

Just watching those tears come last Sunday opened my eyes to the real need for a group who is interested in learning about faith sharing.  In practicing faith sharing.  In having a community who is just as genuinely heartsick as they are to tell others about the love of God they have found.

I have one lesson plan that I have written about evangelism and the gospel of Mark, but it is more of a thinking sort of study, than a heart/practical look. Any suggestions of places to start?

Breaking Your Heart

For the last month or so, we have been reading Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. In prison, sick, struggling, shipwrecked, he just hasn’t had the time or resources to make it to Rome personally, so this letter contains everything that he thinks those people of faith in Rome need to know.

He wants them to take this letter and not only be strengthened in their own faith, but to carry this letter to their friends and neighbors and everyone they meet in Rome… and to offer to them the grace and love of Jesus Christ.

Everything we need to know about the road to salvation is right here in this letter. We’ve talked about much of it in these past weeks. All of us – no matter who we are – are under the power and control of sin. There is nothing we can do to escape it – not ritual, not the law, not ignorance, nothing.

Nothing, except Jesus Christ.

Paul writes that his faithfulness makes us righteous. His faithfulness makes us worthy of salvation. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us and by his blood we have been reconciled to God.

And so, faith and trust in Jesus Christ helps us to die to that old power of sin and now live under the power of grace. Faith and trust in Jesus Christ helps us to say no to sin and yes to God’s ways. It’s not a magic fix, and it is not an easy journey, but through Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, the victory is ours already. Now we wait… but always knowing that no matter what happens, the love of God in Christ Jesus is ours.

That’s it… That’s the “Romans Road” as some people refer to it. Believe and trust in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and salvation is yours.

But what happens in this next part of the letter, Romans 9 and 10 is that Paul shifts directions.

He starts writing to the Romans about a deep sorrow that he feels over a particular group of people who have not been able to trust in these words about Jesus:

In selected verses from 9 and 10:

At the same time, you need to know that I carry with me at all times a huge sorrow. It’s an enormous pain deep within me, and I’m never free of it. I’m not exaggerating—Christ and the Holy Spirit are my witnesses. It’s the Israelites…If there were any way I could be cursed by the Messiah so they could be blessed by him, I’d do it in a minute. They’re my family. I grew up with them. They had everything going for them—family, glory, covenants, revelation, worship, promises….

Believe me, friends, all I want for Israel is what’s best for Israel: salvation, nothing less. I want it with all my heart and pray to God for it all the time. I readily admit that the Jews are impressively energetic regarding God—but they are doing everything exactly backward… After all these years of refusing to really deal with God on his terms, insisting instead on making their own deals, they have nothing to show for it.

Paul’s heart is breaking for his brothers and sisters, his neighbors, and even those people he has never met, who think that they have to earn their way to salvation. His heart is breaking for all of the people who think they are unworthy of God’s love. His heart is breaking for those people who believe that because they have done good in this world that salvation is theirs…

I know that each of us in this room this morning, has someone in our lives that our heart breaks for.

I want you to take just a moment and think about that person.

Maybe it is a spouse or a child that wants to do it their own way, and not God’s way.

A brother or sister who has always had it rough in this life and just can’t accept that God would love them after everything that has happened.

A dear friend who has left the church and left the community of believers and now is disconnected and alone in their faith struggles.

We could probably spend hours today naming those people in our lives who are separated from the love and grace of God that is in Christ Jesus.

I’ll admit it myself. My heart breaks for my own husband who is this jumbled mix of pride and doubt all at the same time. And I know that I can’t make that decision for him. I know that I can’t let it all go for him. And so I pray. And I love him even more.

We feel this way… this aching in our hearts for our brothers and sisters in this world… because we know how amazing it is to experience Christ’s love.

So, when was the last time you actually told that person how you felt? When was the last time you laid your own fears of rejection aside and asked them to just look at your heart and see the deep love and compassion and genuine concern that you have for them?

Here’s the thing. You could lay out the Roman Road for them. You could give them a lecture or hand them a tract or read to them from the bible… but when was the last time you looked that person in the eye and said –

Whether or not you are ready
Whether or not you want to let God in your life…
I need you to know that I love you and that my heart breaks sometimes because you have not yet experienced the joy and the freedom that comes from letting God in.
That love I have for you will never go away.
And God’s love for you will never go away.
Whenever, if you are ever, ready to experience it too, I’m here.

We have to actually speak the words. We have to carry that message of love and salvation to our friends.

As we heard this morning in the scripture that Colette read, “ If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raise him from the dead, you will be saved.”

So when is the last time that you carried that message to someone you loved?

When was the last time you sat and wrestled with someone who was unsure of God’s love in their life? Or helped them to see that they could chose to let Christ rule their hearts rather than money or status or culture?

As his heart is breaking for the people he loves… Paul writes in verse 14 (and I invite you to follow along):

But how can they call for help if they don’t know who to trust? And how can they know who to trust if they haven’t heard of the One who can be trusted? And how can they hear if nobody tells them? And how is anyone going to tell them, unless someone is sent to do it?

 

Maybe our hearts are aching for these brothers and sisters because we have not been active enough in our faith.
Photo by: Jesse Therrien

 

Christ says that we need to be hearers and doers of the word. Someone, somewhere once shared the good news with us… and we heard that word of joy and believed in our own hearts. But not only do we need to believe in our hearts but we also need to confess with our mouths so that others may in turn hear.
But some of us have become “pew potatoes.” Some of us are “occasional Christians.” Some of us are afraid to be sent into the world. Some of us are hanging on to the good news instead of sharing it with others.
(Play “I’m just sitting on the dock of the bay wasting time.” )
Are we just sitting here wasting time? Are we just watching people come in and out of our lives like the ships rolling in and out of the bay?

It’s a good song… but it’s not a good motto to live by.

We are called to go. We are called to share. We are called to take leaps of faith and risks. We are called to speak and to listen. We are called to love.

Every person, in every place, including our own families and circles of friends, needs to hear the good news about Jesus Christ. Will you let Christ send you?

Falling Behind

I definately have not been blogging as frequently as I planned at the beginning of the year. If I’m completely honest with ya’ll it’s because I’ve been sucked into the vortex of trying to get “Loremaster” of Kalimdor and Eastern Kingdoms in the game World of Warcraft. Basically, you have to do 700 quests on each continent in order to get the title. Last night, I completed 700 on Kalimdor and have only 100 left on Eastern Kingdoms. I’m a nerd. A complete nerd. And I don’t really care.

That has basically what I’ve been doing in my free time. Which means no time left to blog.

Church work has been very fruitful in the past few weeks. I was in a bit of a preaching rut, but I dug myself out of it on Sunday. We had a baptism, communion and an ad board meeting all in the span of the morning – and so I knew that my sermon needed to be much shorter than normal. And having to focus on being concise really helped the message. Our speaker system also was malfunctioning, so I preached without amplification, which also made me consciously enunciate more and put more emphasis and passion behind what I was saying. Not that I wouldn’t have meant it the same way before… but I really felt strongly about this sermon on forgiveness, felt like God was calling me to say some things, and not only did I say them, but the Holy Spirit helped them to make contact with a number of people. I actually felt energized by worship, instead of that feeling of just being absolutely spent when I got home.

Ironically, it was a message that really came true in my life later that day. God has a way of hitting us upside the head sometimes and more often than not, I find out that the message I’m preparing is as much for myself as for the congregation. We really are all on this human journey together.

Yesterday I got a great surprise when I recieved an email from someone who is in the local hospital. They were in need of some conversation and faith wrestling and found my email and our church through our website. It was the first time I’ve heard about our website having an impact on others, being a vehicle for invitation, and all of the time I spent on the site really has paid off, just in the one conversation I got to have with her today. If the site was shut down tomorrow, I know that it has served it’s purpose. Hopefully, it will continue to be a place for connection.

e-word #3

In the last e-word, I shared that there are two kinds of good news: the news that Jesus brings to us, and the news about Jesus the Christ. But what do you do with that good news? How do you even begin to share it with the world?

You may have noticed that West End has a new ministry called “Water at the Well.” It is an eclectic mix of events designed to help us experience God in new ways, but it comes with a commission as well: to take those experiences and share them with others. I was able to participate in the “prayer for the city” event on July 2, and in the spirit of those experiences and in the spirit of this column, I want to share with you my experience.

As a few of us sat in the Church Street Park downtown, I have to admit that I felt awkward. We had come into the heart of the city to pray for whatever we saw and experienced, and yet, in such a public place, it was also a very overt form of witness. I kept asking myself, do I have good news for these people? And how do I share it with them?

Interestingly, the park we sat in was filled with beautiful foliage, green grass, a flowing fountain; and yet the only people who took the time to stop and rest inside this space were the homeless of downtown (and the occasional dog walker). Everyone else rushed by on their lunch breaks on the hot pavement just outside the park. Which group needed the good news?

I felt incredibly voyeuristic and out of place. Who was I to bring good news to these people? Who was I to assume that they didn’t have a bit of good news already? Who is to say that they didn’t have good news to share with me!

Sensing we all felt that way, our little group simply sat on the bench in the park for about 15 minutes soaking it all in. One of us led a simple prayer – praying that we might experience God in the city during our time in that place. Almost immediately, people around us began to interact with us. We had been present for long enough that we became safe and approachable. We had been present long enough to not be a strange element in this community’s midst.

All of the recent stuff I have been reading about evangelism talks about building relationships and in the process sharing good news. We really need to get to know someone, know where they are at, and be honest about where we are as well, in order to share our stories. And we need to be a real presence in someone’s life. That is not to say that there isn’t a time and a place for random encounters with people, and that’s not to say that we can’t share the good news of God with complete strangers. But to really know what to say, you need names, you need stories and you need to be vulnerable yourself.

So what did we share with this group of people? We stopped for long enough to hear their stories and to share a bit about ourselves. We listened for long enough to hear that the good news that Christ brings to the world is needed in this community: there is addiction and mental illness and broken relationships that need healing. Yet we also listened for long enough to hear that the good news of God was present in their midst. They were a community that loved and cared for one another, and in the spirit of water at the well, they shared what they had received with one another and were able to tell another hungry beggar where to find food.

And that is precisely how Daniel Niles describes evangelism: “Evangelism is witness. It is one beggar telling another beggar where to get food. The Christian does not offer out of his bounty. He has no bounty. He is simply guest at his Master’s table and, as evangelist, he calls others too.” The good news that I gained from being present in this community was realizing that the good news God gives us to share is a gift. It does not come from our abundance or knowledge or higher moral standing. It comes in spite of us and it is meant for everyone, including ourselves. We are all hungry, and when we find a morsel of food, we should share it with others.